All Blacks captain Kieran Read to join Verblitz after Rugby World Cup

AP, Kyodo

All Blacks captain Kieran Read has announced he will leave New Zealand after the World Cup to play club rugby in Japan’s Top League for Toyota Verblitz.

The 33-year-old backrower had already indicated he was unlikely to continue in test rugby after the World Cup, which kicks off in September in Japan, and was considering other opportunities.

Read had been linked with the Paris club Racing 92 and there were reports he’d join former All Blacks and Crusaders teammate Dan Carter at Kobelco Steelers in the Top League, but he announced Wednesday he planned to join Toyota, under former Springboks coach Jake White.

He said it was the right time to confirm his plans so he could focus on the remainder of the 2019 season.

“Every young rugby player in New Zealand dreams of the opportunities I have had to represent the All Blacks and the Crusaders and I know I’ll look back at the end of the year with a great deal of pride to have worn those jerseys for as long as I have,” Read said in a statement. “My family and I are looking forward to an overseas experience and Japan presents an awesome opportunity to immerse ourselves in Japanese culture.”

Read has played 118 tests for New Zealand, taking over as captain after Richie McCaw retired following the 2015 World Cup.

To some degree his captaincy has been overshadowed by his predecessor, McCaw, who captained New Zealand in 110 of his 148 internationals.

Read has an understated leadership style which has made him less strongly associated with the captaincy than McCaw, who led New Zealand to 2011 and 2015 World Cup titles. But he has been prepared to take strong stands and recently spoke out against World Rugby’s plans for a World League which might exclude the Pacific Island nations Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew described Read as one of the most influential players in world rugby.

“We want to wish Kieran all the very best for his swansong season in New Zealand rugby,” Tew said. “He’s been one of the most influential players in the world in his 13 years at the top of the professional game, an outstanding and hugely-respected All Blacks captain.

“We owe ‘Reado’ and others like him, who have given so much to our teams, a huge debt of gratitude.”

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen praised Read’s leadership on and off the field.

“His contribution off the park has been just as impressive. He’s developed into a fantastic leader who has the utmost respect of all his peers,” Hansen said. “What he has achieved has been remarkable and it’s fair to say that he is one of the greats of our game who has enhanced the legacy of not only the All Blacks jersey but also the Crusaders jersey.”

The news comes two days after Aichi Prefecture-based Toyota, which finished fourth in the Top League and won the Top League Cup in the 2018-2019 season, announced that Springboks fullback Willie le Roux had signed for the team. Toyota also signed former South Africa assistant coach Gert Smal, adding him to the staff of current head coach Jake White.

“We would like to announce that we have signed Kieran Read for the upcoming 2019 Top League season,” the club tweeted Wednesday. “We have also (announced) the signing of Willie Le Roux on March 4. We look forward to playing with these players in the 2019 TL season.”

According to reports from South Africa, Smal, who helped White coach South Africa to victory at the 2007 World Cup, has been lined up to replace his former boss.

White also told Netwerk24 that Smal was the ideal man to take over as head coach of the team once he departs.

“My contract with Verblitz expires after the World Cup. It’s good to have a transition so that there is continuity once I pack my bags,” said White.

“I’ve been at Verblitz for three years now and the plan was always for me to move on after the World Cup. Gert also wants to be a head coach again and this will be a good way to make the transition.”