Big in Ja­pan For­mer Lion Par­ling on us­ing a trans­la­tor for his line-out calls

Eng­land lock is rel­ish­ing his six-month ad­ven­ture and be­lieves a club game in Tokyo could suc­ceed

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Mick Cleary RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Fukuoka

For­mer Lions and Eng­land lock Ge­off Par­ling be­lieves that the globe-trot­ting in­cli­na­tions of the Aviva Premier­ship could mean a game is played in Ja­pan. The sec­ond-row for­ward, who signed off his Ex­eter ca­reer with a cham­pi­ons ti­tle in May to go with two won at Le­ices­ter, has be­gun a six-month stint with Mu­nakata Sanix Blues, an hour north of Fukuoka and a 2019 World Cup venue. As Par­ling, 33, has looked to ex­tend his hori­zons, with a con­tract to come in Su­per Rugby with Mel­bourne Rebels, so, too, has the Premier­ship. On Satur­day Sara­cens take on Newcastle Fal­cons in Philadel­phia. The aim is to test out new mar­kets, much in the mould of Par­ling him­self, whose ini­tial in­ten­tion was merely to head to Aus­tralia.

“I wanted a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence and I ad­mit I jumped into this quite blind,” he said. “I’d al­ready fixed up to go to the Rebels and this ar­range­ment came about in March through an agent I’d never met and with­out me speak­ing to any­one at the club. I could have stayed on at Ex­eter, where I had a bril­liant time, France was an op­tion but noth­ing re­ally came up. I knew in my heart that I wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“My fam­ily was quite shocked. My mum and dad are real north east­ern­ers and thought it was a long way off when I went to Le­ices­ter from Newcastle. But Ja­pan has been a great ex­pe­ri­ence, not with­out dif­fi­cul­ties, but it has made me open up and adapt. It [a Premier­ship game here] would work, yeah, the odd game [over­seas] is bril­liant, even though it would prob­a­bly have to be Tokyo.

“This is a quiet area, which suits me, with crowds of only around 4,000 or so, al­though we did get 15,000 for a pre-sea­son warm-up against Auck­land Blues.”

Just as Eng­land will have to ad­just when they base them­selves here in this southerly is­land of Kyushu at Miyazaki prior to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, so, too, has Par­ling. The fam­ily ar­rived in a rush, still pack­ing up to an hour be­fore de­par­ture at the end of June, three chil­dren in tow, the last of them, Eve, born only in March. Par­ling had warned his two older chil­dren, Henry (six) and May (four), not to ex­pect fa­mil­iar com­forts or food, es­pe­cially chips.

“We were put up in a ho­tel for the first three days and all came down to break­fast to find chips with tomato ketchup served up,” said Par­ling, who did won­der if he had made the right de­ci­sion when the fam­ily moved into a flat a few days later. “There was no air­con­di­tion­ing and it was sti­fling hot and hu­mid, with me head­ing out the door to train­ing with my wife, Elle, strug­gling on the floor with a new­born baby wait­ing for a de­liv­ery from IKEA.”

The ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion process is well un­der way. The kids tuck into their raw fish sashimi diet, have spent a fam­ily week­end at an old-fash­ioned moun­tain Ryokan re­treat and are in­te­grated at the In­ter­na­tional School in Fukuoka. Par­ling was just about to pick them up hav­ing done a day’s train­ing back in Mu­nakata. “It was into the sea for a swim af­ter train­ing, only about 50 me­tres away,” said Par­ling, who has a fish­ing trip on the sched­ule. “I’ve al­ways been the or­gan­ised type and like to do things in a cer­tain way. But you have to ex­pect a bit of ran­dom­ness here. That’s been good. I want to get into coach­ing and I’m look­ing af­ter the set-piece. I changed the line-out calls on my sec­ond day, all of which went through a trans­la­tor so that got a bit con­fus­ing. There are lots of lit­tle things that pop up. The beach­front by the club­house would have cafes and ho­tels in Eng­land but here ev­ery­thing is much fur­ther in­land as they are all aware of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. A siren goes off ev­ery day at 5pm, a sig­nal for peo­ple to fin­ish work.

“The Ja­panese are so po­lite, so friendly and help­ful, but players some­times strug­gle to be­lieve they can beat the big clubs be­cause they have this re­spect for au­thor­ity and elders. The pace of the game is faster but not as phys­i­cal.”

The Sanix Blues are unique in that they are fully pro­fes­sional yet can­not com­pete with the bud­gets of the big cor­po­ra­tion teams such as Kobe or Pana­sonic, where the Ja­panese players are con­sid­ered com­pany em­ploy­ees.

Par­ling will re­turn to Ja­pan fol­low­ing his stint with the Rebels primed for a move into coach­ing, much as Eng­land for­wards coach Steve Borth­wick once did. Travel and the broad­en­ing of minds is an en­dur­ing theme.

New world: Ge­off Par­ling play­ing for Sanix Blues in Ja­pan, and (be­low) pick­ing up the ti­tle with Ex­eter

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