Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett expressed excitement at the challenge that awaits him as a member of the Suntory Sungoliath in Japan’s Top League.
The 29-year-old superstar stand-off/fullback chose the five-time Top League champion as his first club outside of his native New Zealand, and had warm words for his new home during an unveiling event at a Tokyo hotel on Wednesday.
“I want to say I’ve really been enjoying our experience so far. One of the big reasons to come over here was because Japan is the country we really love,” Barrett told a news conference. “It’s great to be a part of the Suntory Sungoliath. I think playing the game of rugby, they really suit me and I am really looking forward to playing in the Top League with my teammates and also being friends with them.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time so far and I think it’s a great team to be a part of. And I cannot wait until the Top League season starts.”
The All Blacks standout is one of the most accomplished global stars to have joined the Top League. Three-time World Rugby Player of the Year Dan Carter spent the previous two seasons with the Kobelco Steelers.
Barrett, who captured the Player of the Year accolades in 2016 and 2017, will be playing during a sabbatical of a four-year contract he signed with New Zealand Rugby and the Blues last year. He will reportedly earn $1.5 million from Suntory for the upcoming season, which will kick off on Jan. 16, making him one of the highest-paid players in the world.
Barrett said that his decision to join the Sungoliath was based on his plan to compete again for New Zealand at the 2023 World Cup in France, saying he had turned down an option to play for a French club.
Sungoliath senior director Masato Tsuchida was already happy with the attention Barrett had brought to the club.
“We have more than three times as many reporters as we had when we introduced (former Suntory flanker) George Smith,” a smiling Tsuchida told reporters.
Tsuchida added: “I’ve already watched him play (in two preseason games) and I’m thrilled to have the world’s best player here. And even in the two games, he didn’t play on cruise control, but did his best. For a player like him to come over here, it will give a ton of impact, not only to Japanese rugby but to Japanese sports in general.”
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