New Zealand rugby union players could lose out on millions of dollars overseas with Japanese club rugby looking to change rules around foreign players.
Japan is about to launch a new competition to replace the Top League which will still welcome big name All Blacks but other New Zealand players may not be – unless they trade in black for red and white.
The changes come as Japan looks to continue stunning the world as it did at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but to do so it needs to produce more players of its own, Top League boss Osamu Ota says.
“We need to improve the value of our domestic rugby as well, then Japan can look up to be one of the tier one unions maybe in the future.”
1 NEWS understands big name All Blacks such as Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brodie Retallick and others who played in this year’s competition, will still be welcome next season with the rules actually set to be relaxed to allow teams to field three top-tier internationals instead of two.
However, other foreigners will need to pledge allegiance to Japan's Brave Blossoms or find somewhere else to play, many players like Hayden Parker and many others will be squeezed out.
Interestingly, the ploy by Japan could already be working with 1 NEWS understanding former Highlanders winger and Baby Blacks sensation Tevita Li now wanting to play for Japan.
But Japan’s ambitions to improve don’t stop there; to further boost their rugby, Japanese teams want games against sides from New Zealand and Australia, Ota said.
“The idea is like after we finish our domestic league, a certain number of top ranked teams will play some top teams in New Zealand or Australia,” he said.
Interested parties have spoken to Japan Rugby Union but the problem is, it's not their call to make with an approach needed to be made to each individual team and their corporate owners.
It could be a logistical nightmare but recent Top League-winning coach Robbie Deans sees the value in such efforts.
“The interest here would be enormous,” Deans said.
Despite the many hurdles involved, there is certainly an appetite to make it happen.