Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett says he’s excited by the challenge that awaits him with the Suntory Sungoliath in Japan’s Top League, writes Kaz Nagatsuka. “One of the big reasons to come over here was because Japan is the country we really love,” Barrett told a news conference. “I cannot wait until the Top League season starts.”

The New Zealand standout is one of the most accomplished global stars to have joined the league, but he’s not the only All Black to have made the move, with scrumhalf TJ Perenara having signed for Osaka’s NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes. Both Barrett and Perenara are on one-year contracts, and both have said they hope to don the All Blacks’ jersey again after impressing in Japan.

The Top League opener on Jan. 16 at the National Stadium sets up a juicy rematch between Toshiba Brave Lupus’ Michael Leitch and NTT Communications Shining Arcs’ Greig Laidlaw. The two last met in the final pool game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with Leitch skippering Japan to a victory over Laidlaw-led Scotland, sending the Brave Blossoms into the quarterfinals.

Voice of Sungoliath #3 / Beauden Barrett
Voice of Sungoliath #3 / Beauden Barrett | SUNTORY SUNGOLIATH

Looking further ahead, Japan coach Jamie Joseph is relishing a 2023 World Cup reunion with “Miracle of Brighton” architect Eddie Jones, but has warned that more top-level competition is “crucial” for his team’s preparations.

Joseph said that Japan suffers “from a lack of depth” and that his team needs “to create a whole layer of experience” if it is to get out of a pool that will feature England, Argentina, either Samoa or Tonga.

England, on the other hand, can go into the RWC confident but wary, Reuters reports. Coach Jones has called the group “probably the most contrasting pool in terms of style and philosophy and playing element, and that’s what makes it the most interesting.”