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March 7, 2019

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Skipper Read to bid ‘sayonara’ to NZ post-World Cup

ALL Blacks captain Kieran Read has signed up to play for Japanese club Toyota Verblitz after this year’s World Cup, bringing an end to 13 seasons as a professional in New Zealand.

The 33-year-old No. 8 had already announced he would be bringing down the curtain on his long test career after he leads New Zealand’s quest for a third straight World Cup title in Japan later this year.

Although the 118-cap enforcer had long been linked with a big-money move to Parisian club Racing 92, he said he was mindful how his battle-weary body might stand up to the strain of a full season in Europe’s top leagues.

“With three kids and a family, (Japan) is a lot closer to home,” Read said in Christchurch yesterday. “And for my age, and my body, in terms of the amount of footy you play there compared to Europe and the UK. They are probably the main reasons.

“It offered something pretty unique to be there, and enjoy a slice of Japan life.”

Far from Tokyo and Japan’s more glamorous destinations, Toyota Verblitz is based in the urban sprawl east of manufacturing hub Nagoya, offering Read a properly immersive experience of the emerging rugby nation.

The 2013 World Player of the Year will easily be the team’s highest profile player, but will see some familiar faces, including head coach Jake White, the former World Cup-winning South Africa coach.

Toyota Verblitz — fourth in the 16-team league last season, — has a heavy South African flavor and announced this week it had signed 53-test Springboks fullback Willie le Roux as it looks to push for its first title.

It plays some of its home games at Toyota Stadium, which will host four matches during the World Cup, including New Zealand’s pool clash with Italy.

Before heading off for the World Cup, Read will also hope to help the Canterbury Crusaders to a third successive Super Rugby title once he returns to the team after another three weeks or so. “I think it is always hard leaving a place that I have been a part of for a number of years, 13 years or so,” he said.

“So that will be hard when I get to that point. Right now, to be honest, it’s just a decision being made and I am sure when we get to the end of the season with the Crusaders and All Blacks there will be different emotions coming on then.”

Read took over as All Blacks 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.

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.”


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