An announcement that the Richie Mo’unga Japanese contract post-RWC is a lifestyle change, as much as an opportunity to maximize earning potential now, is a valuable revelation.
It means that the conclusion of the Crusaders Super Rugby Pacific season is likely his last for the red and blacks. Completing 2023, Richie Mo’unga will have accrued over 100 matches from his debut in 2016 – across the most successful period in any one Super Rugby franchise’s history, where he personally collected multiple titles and accolades.
But leaving after a Rugby World Cup cycle is now more common, what is different about the shift is the clarity in the individual’s purpose.
And in a media release from the Crusaders regarding the Richie Mo’unga Japanese contract announcement, they are glowing on the contribution the player has provided to date; as well as the upcoming season. 2023 is a year where Mo’unga and in all reality, Scott Robertson, will not be returning.
“The Crusaders have been my life forever, even before I joined the team it was my life, dreaming of being part of the family,” Mo’unga said.
Following the 2023 season we will say goodbye to Richie Mo'unga as he heads to Japan to take on the next chapter ❤️
Read more: https://t.co/424gbNI9c2 pic.twitter.com/xefKI6D6W9
— Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) December 26, 2022
“My energy going into this season is no different to any other, I’m here to give my everything. I still want to perform, to do the best for the Crusaders, our members, and our fans. There’s still a heck of a job to do before I leave.”
Richie Mo’unga Japanese contract post-RWC a lifestyle change
In quotes from NZME, Mo’unga revealed more personal reasons to shift from New Zealand Rugby (NZR) to the Japan Rugby League One. He explained,
“My job as a father and a husband is to provide for my family and put them first in decisions. That’s basically what I’m doing. I’ve got a short window to play rugby, so it’s taking advantage of that”.
The omission is a reality for professional rugby players. Honest too, as some have claimed to want to relieve the pressure on their bodies or to expand their game set; so the awareness that his time to claim a large income from playing rugby in Japan is an advantage few others can realize.
The Toshiba Brave Lupus team based in Tokyo is a perfect home for Mo’unga to join. The home of former teammate Matt Todd, the move will be made after Super Rugby Pacific 2023 and the player’s ultimate aim this year, the Rugby World Cup in France.
“This team has given so much to me as a rugby player and as a person, and in return I’ve always wanted to give my everything to the team both on and off the field, to help us succeed, and to be the best environment for players,” Mo’unga said.
A devoted family man, he also said this to The Herald, “When I weighed up the chance to make awesome memories with my family and set them up, that decision [Richie Mo’unga Japanese contract post-RWC] was easy. It is hard though because I feel like what I’ve done in the All Blacks jersey is 60-70 percent of what I can give.
“I feel I’m hitting my strides now, and coming into a World Cup year, I can do a lot more, so that makes it tough.”
So the call to sign to Japanese rugby for an extended three-year term means he is ineligible for the All Blacks in 2024. And after Beauden Barrett engaged with NZR on the possibility of playing offshore and still earning selection to the national side, Mo’unga might conclude his career wearing a black jersey after the Rugby World Cup 2023 final (scheduled for Saturday, October 28).
Return is not entirely off the cards for the All Blacks pivot
On his return to New Zealand after the 2026 Japanese rugby season, would Mo’unga be confident he could reclaim a black jersey? His answer was,
“It leaves the options there for me before the 2027 RWC. I can see where my footy is at. The All Blacks are brutal – one person goes [Mo’unga] and another steps up. I’m expecting that to happen; for guys to fill the role and immediately stamp their mark.”
“I could stay in Japan or potentially chase the All Blacks jersey and I’m ready for that challenge, but I understand it’s not just going to happen.”
Examples here are widely seen, in the context of regaining International rugby positions. Some players are just so important to the team, that they are reintroduced in an express timeline. Think Brodie Retallick and Jerome Kaino. Yet others will never re-establish their status. Think Julian Savea, Luke McAlister, Stephen Brett, and Luke Whitelock.
Others have been more successful. Retallick, Barrett – who gained an express route straight into Super Rugby Aotearoa due to the global pandemic. TJ Perenara has even returned to the starting lineup. And one of the most rewarded players to emigrate between rugby competitions was Sonny Bill Williams. Between Japan, French rugby, and league, the convert was surprisingly successful and won two World Cups in his time.
What this recent Richie Mounga contract means?
Not the first, and he won’t be the last. Others are exporting their talents at similar ages; Matt Giteau being an example. It is just that Mo’unga will find no ‘contract extension’ to retain his services to the All Blacks.
Could this recent Richie Mounga Japan contract be an example of a player leaving in his prime, never to return to the heights of domestic and International achievements? Most rugby observers will say ‘he will find it difficult’. As much for the long term of his absence, and in that another will naturally step into that void – think Damien McKenzie.
Note, McKenzie himself just ended one Japanese rugby season with the Suntory Sungoliath and did return to the All Blacks XV representation.
Yet the admission and honest way in which Mo’unga has responded to his post-RWC contract is a modern reality. For the love of his family, and his future. Although, it is also a major career risk too.
If injury or loss of form never sees the gifted Crusaders’ first five ever wear a black jersey after 2024, will he still be as genuine in his future commitment? Or could it close the door on a player who never reached his peak wearing a Silver Fern.
Super Rugby Pacific 2023 begins February 24: Crusaders v Chiefs
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images