Drain to Japan starting to bite Highlanders

Dan Pryor has played just one game for the Highlanders this year and is unlikely to return next...
Dan Pryor has played just one game for the Highlanders this year and is unlikely to return next year. Photo: Getty Images

Is it time for New Zealand rugby to start doing something about the drain to Japan?

Ever since the Japanese started taking rugby seriously, New Zealanders have found their way up to Japan.

Players such as Andrew McCormick and Scott Pierce went to Japan even before the game went professional. They were the trailblazers but plenty have gone since and what started as a trickle is fast becoming a rush.

The lure of the of the yen is becoming stronger by the day and, when next season starts, a hefty group of Highlanders will be playing and taking part in the Japanese Top League this year. It may be filling their bank balance but it is not doing much for the New Zealand domestic competition.

Players now opt to play in Japan and skip the Mitre 10 Cup.

Little-used loose forward Dan Pryor is heading to Japan after the completion of the Highlanders season. Pryor is joining the Manukata Sanix Blues where he will play alongside former Highlander Jason Emery.

Pryor (30) has played just one game for the Highlanders this year and is unlikely to return next year.

Also heading to Japan for the season from the Highlanders are loose forward Elliot Dixon, lock Tom Franklin and utility back Richard Buckman.

Dixon and Franklin are coming back to the Highlanders for next season while it is up in the air for Buckman whether he will be back.

They will join the likes of Hayden Parker, Marty Banks, Shaun Treeby, Joe Wheeler and Craig Millar in Japan while the Mitre 10 Cup is played.

New Zealand Rugby in effect can do little about it. The financial incentives are far higher in Japan and the standard of play is also increasing. Players can pick up a very handy remuneration for four months and then come back and be ready for the Super Rugby season.

It is not only players who are heading off.

Former Highlanders coach Greg Cooper is coaching the Mitsubishi Dynaboars with former Highlanders prop Carl Hoeft his assistant.

Former Highlanders halfback Danny Lee is coaching Honda Heat and is assisted by former Highlanders lock and Southland coach Hoani MacDonald.

They will be joined by Otago physiotherapist Ash Stiven who has taken on a three-month stint with the Honda team.

Banks will be joined in the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes by former Highlanders physiotherapist Karl McDonald.

That team is coached by former Otago captain Mike Brewer.

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