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Five Japanese rugby players sign first deals with JRFU

by Kumi Kinohara

The Japan Rugby Football Union on Friday announced five players had agreed to sign full-time contracts with the governing body in Japan, becoming the first to sign as “professionals” under the JRFU’s new contract system.

The five players are Kensuke Iwabuchi of English Premier League club Saracens, Yutaka Tsujimoto of Kintetsu, Akihito Kato of NTT-ME Tohoku, Jun Akune of Tokyo Gas and Hajime Kiso of Yamaha. All are uncapped with the exception of Iwabuchi.

Their contracts with the JRFU will run from May 1 through the end of July. After the contract expires, they will return to their own teams.

Wataru Murata of Aviron Bayonnais is also expected to sign with the JRFU.

The new system is one of the JRFU’s projects launched this year in an attempt to improve the standard of the national team at international level. Other moves include having a full-time national team head coach and paid foreign coaching assistants.

Japanese rugby has long centered around company and university teams. The JRFU opted to retain its amateur status even after the International Rugby Board opted to allow professionalization in 1995.

Most of the leading rugby union nations turned pro following the decision, but the JRFU had resisted until now. It finally decided to open the door for professionalization in an attempt to improve the Japanese game at international level.

The JRFU’s system will allow players who are called up for the national team to concentrate on rugby matters, rather than work problems.

Those players who are signed — with the exception of college students — will receive allowances according to the duration or number of games they play in and win.

The JRFU revealed that eight companies, including Suntory, Kobe Steel, and Toshiba Fuchu, have opted not to join the scheme for the time being.

Japan will host South Korea on Sunday at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Stadium and will visit Taiwan on May 27 before hosting Wales in a two-game test series on June 10 at Osaka’s Hanazono Stadium and June 17 at Chichibunomiya.

Japan will also play in the Pacific Rim Championship on July 4 at Tokyo Stadium and on July 8 at Chichibunomiya Stadium.

Iwabuchi to re-sign

Japan rugby player Kensuke Iwabuchi on Friday said that he has agreed to re-sign with Saracens of the English Premier League for next year.