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Japan is set to become a real melting pot of rugby next year when the new Top League season kicks off in January with more and more national teams represented in the competition.

While the actual makeup and format of the league has yet to be determined, one thing is for sure — Japanese rugby fans will have never heard such an array of accents and seen so many different approaches to the game.

The recent signings of England internationals Freddie Burns and George Kruis and Wales star Hadleigh Parkes is the result of Japanese corporate team recruiters shifting their attention to Northern Hemisphere clubs as Top League and Top Challenge League sides get set for the start of the new professional league in late 2021/early 2022.

"The reality is very few European players have gone to Japan in the past," rugby agent David McHugh recently told Extra.ie.

“That's just history. Now, that doesn't mean that European players don't want to go to Japan but they have such a large playing base from the Australasian playing market, they don't tend to look to this market, occasionally in specialist positions. … I think Europe is more on their radar now."

Some cynics will say a move to Japan is for only players at the end of their careers looking for a final pay day.

But Kintetsu Liners coach Nick Stiles told the Sydney Morning Herald this week: "The Japanese don't want to pay top dollar for guys who are about to retire. … Teams are much smarter now with the top tier players they are signing."

Kruis, who like Parkes will be playing for Panasonic Wild Knights, made it clear he still believes he has some international rugby left in him, be it for the British and Irish Lions next year in South Africa or for England when he heads back after two years in Japan.

"I am only 30 so I would like to think there is plenty left in the legs and this is definitely not an England retirement," he told The Daily Telegraph.

"I have the opportunity to do a one-plus-one (one-year contract with the option of extending for another) so that leaves things nice and open. I am massively still interested in international honors and Lions honors, whatever I am invited to play in."

Burns, meanwhile, is hoping to use his time at Toyota Industries Shuttles to play a style of rugby that he believes he is better suited to.

"I feel like my attacking game has been stifled a little at Bath," the 30-year-old told RugbyPass. "The Premiership is a great league and there is a lot of pressure on, but I feel the game now in England has turned into a game where you try not to lose instead of going out to win."

“I'm excited from seeing the results and the way the game is played in Japan, it seems like you go out there and try to outscore the opposition."

"That isn't about neglecting defense or not turning up in defense, it's about going out and showcasing attacking ability. Having the ball in hand, attacking kicks, smart decisions. Hopefully, I can bring a little bit of the English pragmatism to Japan but at the same time I want to go there and really showcase my attacking talent."

The pair could be joined by two other men who have worn the Red Rose of England in Ben Te'o, who was part of the Sunwolves squad this year, and Alex Goode, who is set to take up a season-long loan with NEC Green Rockets.

Scotland's Greig Laidlaw — a fan favorite in Japan — is also rumored to be joining a Top League side, a move that would ensure Irishman Paddy Butler, who joined Yamaha Jubilo last year, has a fellow Celt to sip post-match beers with.

"It’s funny — when we were initially talking to Yamaha, they were saying they don't know what an Irish person is like. Because all they do is sign Kiwis, South Africans, and Aussies," Butler told the42.ie.

"They just hadn't looked at European players so hopefully that changes now and it helps a few others make the move over. I'll have to take a cut from any deals in the future."

However the shift to Europe does not mean an end to big-name signings from the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses with a trio of All Blacks topping the list.

Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Colin Slade has confirmed he will be playing for Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars, while Ben Smith (a RWC winner in 2015) and Aaron Cruden (RWC winner in 2011) are set to join Kobe Kobelco Steelers.

And in perhaps the biggest signing of all, Beauden Barrett, the World Rugby Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, has been linked with a club in the Tokyo area.

Now all we need is a decision on how rugby will be played post-coronavirus and the format of next year's competition.

Because with just six rounds of top level domestic rugby in two calendar years, it's fair to say Japanese rugby fans — not to mention the players and coaches — are chomping at the bit.

Rich Freeman writes about rugby for Kyodo News.

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