Highlander Hemopo to join Japanese club after World Cup

Jackson Hemopo
Jackson Hemopo
Highlanders forward Jackson Hemopo has been lost to New Zealand rugby and and will not be playing for the Highlanders next year.

The Mitsubishi Dynaboars club announced over the weekend it had signed Hemopo (25) and his new coach said yesterday Hemopo would be playing in Japan for two seasons.

There was a thought he would play in Japan and then come back and play for the southern franchise next year. But Hemopo has signed a two-year deal with the Dynaboars, who are coached by former Highlanders coach Greg Cooper and former Highlanders prop Carl Hoeft. The duo helped the side get promoted to the top league next season.

Cooper said, when contacted yesterday, Hemopo had always impressed him as a player and a person, ever since he started playing for club side Green Island.

"I remember him playing for Green Island and you see a lot of players come back from Super Rugby and play for their club sides and Jackson would do it so well. That just shows the character of the guy,'' Cooper said.

"He would come back to the club team and work and work hard. He has become a quality footballer and is a quality person.''

Cooper said Hemopo's physical style and good fitness were other key attributes. Hemopo was due to arrive in Japan after the World Cup. He would still be young enough after two years to return to New Zealand. His contract with the Highlanders comes to an end after this season.

The shape of the next couple of Japanese seasons was up in the air but Cooper said it was firming up.

No upper level domestic rugby competition can be played in the same country when a World Cup is taking place. There would be a lower-tier competition played later in the year but would not involved many top-end players.

Cooper said though nothing had been confirmed there were indications the Top League season would go from January-May in 2020. Initially there were thoughts the following season would go from August to January in the same year but the latest update was it would go from January-May in 2021.

He said it may not be set in stone but his opinion was that Japan and New Zealand Rugby had to get aligned so players could play Super Rugby and also in Japan. That was already happening to some degree but Cooper said it was changing quickly as "players looked to set themselves up for life after rugby''.

"What I would like to see happen is both seasons work together. So players can play Super Rugby and then go and play in Japan. They might come back and miss a couple of games at the start of Super Rugby. But things are changing. Players are going to go to Europe and you are going to lose them.

"But you could manage the two seasons together. It would put more pressure on the format here to some degree but something has to be done.''

Cooper said Japanese company teams could field five foreign players in a match day squad and there were also exemptions for players who had Japanese passports or residency or players with Asian passports.


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