'We have De Jager, De Allende and Koroibete': Japan's appetite for world class players has a limit says GM
Rugby union competitions around the world are bracing for a possible exodus of top players to Japan after the World Cup in France later this year.
In England and Wales, where some clubs are cash-strapped and players face uncertain futures, some appear to be looking to Japan for lucrative deals and security.
But Hitoshi Iijima, general manager of the Wild Knights, the most successful club in Japan League One, has indicated there are limits.
Iijima said if some of the best players in the world became available after the World Cup, the Wild Knights could hardly ignore them.
But he added the club was happy with their current high-profile imports including South Africa’s Lood de Jager and Damian de Allende, and Australia’s Marika Koroibete.
“England, Australia and New Zealand all have great players and we are going to look everywhere to make our team better,” he said.
“But we have de Jager, de Allende and Koroibete. All of them are very attractive and world-class top players and because they are loyal to us we respect them so much.”
Koroibete was recently recognised as Australia’s top international player for 2022 after his powerful performances in Tests for the Wallabies while on leave from the Wild Knights.
The Fijian-born former star in Australia’s NRL competition is allowed to play in Japan and for Australia under Rugby Australia’s exemptions for a small number of elite stars.
New Zealand’s incoming head coach Scott Robertson has indicated he would be open to picking New Zealanders based in Japan in his All Blacks squads after the World Cup.
That would be a major departure from current policy, and one many observers believe might be problematic for New Zealand rugby.
Iijima has a lukewarm view of such a policy change in New Zealand or elsewhere.
“If that kind of policy change happened it would expand the possibilities for League One clubs to hire top level players more easily than the current situation and we may be able to have more numbers of national representative players,” he said.
“However, on the other hand if we have that kind of policy change we have to be careful, that’s my opinion.
“If players are able to go out and play in another country but still play in their national team, that sometimes weakens the player base for that country. So every country or union who are thinking about that policy change in my opinion needs to be careful in doing that.”
Iijima believes the focus of Japanese clubs may switch in future from enticing top Test players to recruiting younger, development players..
“Japanese rugby should be growing up in the long term,” he said.
“We have to look at what will be best for Japanese rugby itself because in Japanese rugby the player (development) is crucial.”
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