Otago coach Tony Brown is back from Japan and it looks as
though another top Japanese player will once again be following
Brown returned to Dunedin late last month after helping coach
Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan for another year.
The Wild Knights lost both competitions in the country at the
semifinal stage, losing to Toshiba in one game and Suntory in
Brown, who was assistant coach, said the standard of the
competition was increasing every year.
''Japanese players are getting better and the foreign players
that come in now have to front. It is no longer seen as a way
for players to simply retire to,'' Brown said.
The game was very fast, and although not overly physical,
players had to be very fit.
Sonny Bill Williams had played for the Wild Knights last
season but only turned out in six games because of injuries,
ending with a three win, three loss record.
Brown would head back to Japan for another season with the
Wild Knights after the ITM Cup finished.
His mind now switched to Otago and the ITM Cup season.
A group of players had started training up to four times a
week in the gym and also had one field session a week.
But he wanted to leave the players to train with their clubs
until the provincial season gets nearer.
Club rugby was scheduled to kick off on March 28 and finish
at the end of July.
Places would be left open in the Otago squad for players who
impressed in club rugby.
About 80% of players had been signed by the union for the
coming year, but details were still being finalised. A full
list of contracted players would be released by the union
later this month.
Lock Rob Verbakel was believed to be heading overseas and
other players were also weighing up their options.
Last year Japanese test players halfback Fumiaki Tanaka and
hooker Shota Horie arrived in Dunedin through Brown's
connections and played club rugby for Zingari-Richmond.
They were selected for the Otago side and both are playing
Super 15 this season - Tanaka playing for the Highlanders and
Horie for the Melbourne Rebels.
Japanese winger Akihito Yamada was also keen to come south to
try his luck and Brown said he would arrive after Japan had
played in the Pacific Nations Cup.
He would have to play club rugby and play well to be picked
in the Otago side, Brown said.
A confirmed draw for the ITM Cup was due to be released in
the next couple of months and Otago has the extra lure of a
Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato.
A draft draw had the challenge early in the season but that
could change before the official draw is released.
The ITM Cup starts in mid-August.