To the delight of many, Japan Top League preseason/training matches began in the lead-up to the 2021 season start.
That is, despite raised Covid-19 fears, with the latest strain placing ongoing pressure on Japanese borders. Overseas players who have all been imported to support the raised profile of rugby union, may now also now feel a sense of trepidation. Games have proceeded in earnest though, with all Coronavirus protocols observed.
Focus should be directed at the physical action on the field though, with established clubs like Kobelco Steelers and Suntory SunGoliath each running out home-based players, as well as their imported talent. Beauden Barrett is one, whose mere presence in the newspapers will bring shrieks of delight to the rugby-mad country.
Even with the pandemic limiting international travel, most rugby signings have still been able to fly into the Asian nation. Permitted to bring families with them, Barrett has recently traveled to Japan with his wife and young daughter. Others have similarly done the same, and all had to quarantine before being integrated within their club ranks.
As the cautious Government now looks to control its borders, rugby players must steel themselves that their clubs will do everything to protect them [as have all rugby organizations internationally].
But now, they will be in full-on preparation-mode in this short Japan Top League preseason window.
— ラグビー トップリーグ🔜1月16日開幕! (@JRTopLeague) December 21, 2020
Japan Top League preseason begins in earnest, despite Covid tensions
Barrett is joined by Greig Laidlaw, Makazole Mapimpi, Quade Cooper, George Kruis, Hadleigh Parkes, and others in this version of the ever-improving competition. Improving as much due to the Brave Blossoms place in the world game. No longer only seen as a retirement haven for Internationals. Now, when preparing to play in the Japan Top League preseason is where imports are judged whether they can match Japanese talent. That is the difference in 2020.
As much as the Asian country is still an emerging nation, the level of play is near to the elite level. Proven by the Sunwolves, who played in the Super Rugby competition from 2015. Indeed, while 2020 would have been their final year in the Southern Hemisphere championship, it was still a place where many players enjoyed great exposure on the world’s scene. That included Ayumu Goromaru.
He, along with leading Japanese players Shogo Nakano, Hendrik Tui, Kenki Fukuoka, and the hugely talented Yusuke Kizu, will each be hometown heroes. All wanting to firm their ranking in their club first-pick XVs so will challenge imports such as World Cup winner, Brodie Retallick. His place in the Kobe Steelers is agreed yet, every local player will want to learn from him, and then – if they are able – challenge the All Black for a starting place.
In 2021, it will be the combination of elements that makes for an enthralling season. Not only for the fact that rugby in Asia is a growing segment. Where both national and international names will both be equally supported by their legion of fans. A combination space where the future of the local players is matched to the edge brought from imports [Gaijin].
Importantly though, it will be respectful that for all the desire that professional sport has in a world where personal safety is at the forefront, the earnest traditions of Japanese culture mean foreigners are accommodated fully. So if the current Covid-19 fears continue, observers hope that when the season proper begins, player welfare is prioritized. As do their Western families.
All caution will undoubtedly be made, even while the organizers plan for an uninterrupted 2021 season. Knowing this, the long-awaited 2021 Japan Top League is near to beginning. Provided conditions do not worsen, fans can look forward to some A-grade footy being played in Asia once again this winter.
2021 Japan Top League – Round One/1st Stage start: January 16
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