• Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

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Rugby World Cup star Kotaro Matsushima will join French side ASM Clermont Auvergne from July, the winger’s Japan Top League club Suntory Sungoliath confirmed Tuesday.

The 26-year-old will link with the club in the Top 14, the premier tier of French rugby, following the Top League season.

In a statement from Suntory, Matushima said he wanted to test himself at the highest level possible in preparation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“I want to compete at a high level, for a strong club where I’m needed,” Matsushima said.

The speedy winger led the Brave Blossoms with five tries at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, including a hat trick against Russia, helping the host reach the knockout stage for the first time.

He will join Clermont in the summer, going some way toward making up for the upcoming departures of South African-born English international Nick Abendanon and Samoan-born former All Black Isaia Toeava.

Clermont’s own statement hailed “this huge recruitment” and called Matsushima, who can play fullback or winger, a “true revelation” of the World Cup “where his sharp runs and lightning speed dazzled the rugby world.”

The signing is “fantastic news for the club, our region and our supporters,” said Franck Azema, Clermont’s sporting director.

“My wish was to join a great rugby team and a club that really wanted me to be part of its goals,” Matsushima said in Clermont’s news release. “The people of Clermont-Ferrand have been in contact with me for a long time and showed a lot of interest in my coming.”

Matsushima joined Sungoliath prior to the 2014 season after coming through the youth ranks of Super Rugby’s Sharks in South Africa. In 2016 he enjoyed a stint with the Melbourne Rebels and more recently suited up for Japan’s Sunwolves.

He has won two Top League titles with Suntory and scored 19 tries for the Brave Blossoms.

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