New complexion to Japanese comp for NZers

As coaches and players get ready to head back to Japan, one big advantage of playing in the country has been taken away.

Though the Japan Top League season is not set to begin until the middle of January, players have already started training.

Former Otago and Highlanders coach Greg Cooper, who is coaching the Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan’s Top League, is due to return to Japan later this month.

But it is a far from normal return for Cooper, who steered the side into the top league a couple of seasons ago.

He envisaged a year of disruptions.

"The key word I think is going to be frustration and how we control those frustrations. We have players who work for big corporations and huge companies who go to work every day and work with thousands of people," he said.

"When they get a cough or a bit of a cold, which is going to happen, does that mean we shut down training and wait for him to have a Covid test? Like I said to our coaching team this week, there are going to have to be a lot of compromises."

Already one club has had to stop training for two weeks as a player was diagnosed with Covid-19.

Former Highlanders and All Blacks forward Jackson Hemopo was returning to Mitsubishi along with Colin Slade and James Wilson, both of whom had previously played for the Highlanders.

Hemopo would head over with Cooper, but Slade had visa issues as he was previously playing in France, while Wilson had only a one-year visa and was waiting for it to be renewed.

Cooper said to many the attraction of playing Japan was its relatively close proximity to New Zealand compared to playing in Europe.

But that advantage was no longer available.

"Once I am there I can’t come back. "That is a little bit different than what it was. There are five or six one-week blocks in the season where you could perhaps hop back to New Zealand. But now with isolation that is no longer available."

Many New Zealand players and coaches had to think about that and the lengthy time spent away from family. Many others had it a lot tougher than rugby players though, he said, and most coaches and players appreciated what they had.

Cooper is assisted by former Otago prop Carl Hoeft, who was also heading to Japan.

Former Otago coach Cory Brown will be heading to Japan later this month to coach Sanix Blues.

He has been helping out the John McGlashan College first XV. Former Otago scrum coach Steve Cumberland is contracted to Kobe. Kobe signed All Blacks Aaron Cruden and Ben Smith for the forthcoming season.


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