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England’s Launchbury says more players could move to Japan

England international Joe Launchbury. (AFP/file)
England international Joe Launchbury. (AFP/file)
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25 Jan 2023 09:01:20 GMT9
25 Jan 2023 09:01:20 GMT9
  • 31-year-old lock left stricken English giants Wasps in November to sign a one-season deal with Toyota Verblitz in big-spending Japan Rugby League One

TOKYO: England international Joe Launchbury said Wednesday that financial uncertainty in European club rugby could persuade more players to follow in his footsteps and move to Japan.

The 31-year-old lock, who has won 65 caps for his country, left stricken English giants Wasps in November to sign a one-season deal with Toyota Verblitz in big-spending Japan Rugby League One.

Wasps and fellow Premiership side Worcester were relegated from English rugby’s Premiership in October after they entered administration as a result of unpaid tax bills.

Launchbury said the “squeeze” in the English game could force more players to look elsewhere and gave Japan a ringing endorsement despite breaking his hand in his first game for Toyota.

The Rugby Football Union forbids players who are based overseas from representing England but Launchbury believes those who are not in the frame for international honours could be tempted by the Japanese league.

“We’ve got a lot of Australians and South Africans who are young and it’s a great opportunity for them,” he said of his Toyota team-mates.

“I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be the same for young English guys to come out and try something different.”

Several star international names have moved to Japan in recent years, and Launchbury plays alongside South Africa’s 2019 world player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit at Toyota.

Most of the league’s overseas players come from the Southern Hemisphere, although England’s George Kruis spent two seasons at Panasonic Wild Knights before retiring last year.

Hadleigh Parkes, who won 29 caps for Wales before moving to Japan in 2020, believes the financial situation in Europe could tempt more British players to make the switch.

“You’ve seen what’s happened in England, with the two clubs sadly going under,” said the 35-year-old back, who plays for Black Rams Tokyo.

“It will be an interesting couple of years over there, I’m sure. There are a couple of texts coming through.

“I guess when push comes to shove, whether boys really want to move to a different area and a different culture is up to them.”

Launchbury said he “can’t speak highly enough” of the Japanese league and believes the relatively short season, which runs from December to May, is a welcome change from the Premiership grind.

Former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, who moved to Japan in 2020, said the financial incentive and the opportunity for a new cultural experience also make Japan an attractive destination.

“I’ve spoken to a few players who are turning their heads and potentially looking for something different — that’s certainly what the Japanese model gives you,” said Laidlaw.

Launchbury will return to England to join Harlequins in July and he hopes to be named in new England head coach Steve Borthwick’s squad for this autumn’s World Cup.

He acknowledged that missing this year’s Six Nations while he is in Japan is “making it harder” for his England career.

But he said he was “so thankful to have this experience” after the financial meltdown at Wasps.


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