Ex-All Blacks captain Kieran Read is excited at the prospect of finally taking to the field in the Top League this weekend.
Perhaps even more enticing for the two-time World Cup champion is that he gets to play alongside, rather than against, his former long-time rival Michael Hooper.
The pair are expected to play together for the first time in their careers this Saturday when Toyota Verblitz open their campaign against Toshiba Brave Lupus in Nagoya on Saturday.
It will be an interesting state of affairs given the two often squared off against one another as captains of New Zealand and Australia, battling for Bledisloe Cup supremacy.
Read took over from Richie McCaw as All Blacks captain following the 2015 World Cup, while Hooper replaced Stephen Moore as permanent captain of the Wallabies in 2017.
The duo went head-to-head as captains of their nations eight times and played a total of 22 internationals against each other, dating from Hooper’s debut test season in 2012 to Read’s All Blacks retirement after the 2019 World Cup.
That’s also not taking into account the numerous times both players have crossed paths at Super Rugby level, but Read has revealed he has warmed to the Wallabies skipper, who is in Japan on a six-month sabbatical.
“A lot of the Japanese boys have been giving me a little bit of stick about it — we’ve been so used to being on the opposition side,” Read said in an online press conference.
“I guess from my point of view, the frustrating thing has been with COVID restrictions and being in a bubble. We can’t actually catch up outside of the game.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, but from what I’ve seen, we actually get along really well,” he added. “It’s probably a bit strange for a lot of people looking at it, but it’s been working well so far.”
The sight of Read and Hooper working together as teammates has been a long time coming, with the Top League initially scheduled to kick-off midway through last month.
However, a COVID-19 outbreak within the Toyota Verblitz, Suntory Sungoliath and Canon Eagles squads forced organisers to postpone the opening round of the competition to this weekend.
Former Chiefs wing Bryce Heem has joined one of the Hamilton side's rivals for the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season.https://t.co/6b7uckzKnZ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 16, 2021
Nevertheless, Read – who made two appearances in his debut season for Verblitz last year before its cancellation due to COVID-19 – believes Hooper will be ready for action at Paloma Mizuho Rugby Stadium in three days’ time.
“He hasn’t been with the side as long as we’d like but he’s a very professional player, so he got up to speed really quick and he’s got to know the guys,” Read said.
“I think he’s frustrated as well, coming over here to enjoy Japan… Not being able to enjoy that side of life at the moment is a little bit tough, but we know we’re here to do a job which is to play rugby.”
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now