The Daily Telegraph - Sport

Farrell and Itoje are targets for Japan’s Top League


Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje have been placed at the top of the wishlist of Japan’s Top League, which is seeking to expand its profile massively following the success of the 2019 World Cup.

Eddie Jones is also likely to be a target after his contract with the England rugby team expires following the 2023 World Cup. The Top League season begins this weekend after a near 12-month hiatus caused by the coronaviru­s outbreak.

The competitio­n is already home to a galaxy of stars including Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Michael Hooper and Kieran Read. Until recently the Top League has almost exclusivel­y recruited from the southern hemisphere, however

former England players George Kruis and Alex Goode as well as exscotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw are at the vanguard of a growing British contingent.

The success of the England team in reaching the 2019 World Cup final staged in Japan has significan­tly grown their profile in the Far East.

With the competitio­n undergoing major reforms, Top League chairman Osamu Ota is hoping to make it an irresistib­le destinatio­n for the world’s top stars. “We have George Kruis and we also have Alex Goode at another team,” Ota told The Daily Telegraph. “They are current internatio­nal players for England which is a great thing for us. In addition to them, if we can have Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell in the future in our league that would be a great thing for us. We also have Greig Laidlaw.

“Those European players are very popular in Japan. I want to make our league an attractive league so that every player, wherever they are, will give considerat­ion to coming here at some point in their career.”

The profile of any England player still pales into insignific­ance to that of Jones, who led Japan to the giantkilli­ng of South Africa at the 2015 World Cup. Already a consultant at Suntory Sungoliath, Jones, currently in the middle of the Six Nations with England, would receive a hero’s welcome if he decided to return to Japan after the next World Cup in France.

“He definitely was a key role in our success in 2015 when we beat South Africa in the World Cup,” Ota said. “He coaches at the high level and would benefit our league with his experience. After he becomes world champion with the England team at the next World Cup, we would like to welcome him back to Japan!”

Unlike in Europe, Japanese clubs are attached to global corporatio­ns such as Honda, Toshiba and Toyota. As such they have been relatively immune to the retrenchme­nt that English club rugby is experienci­ng with the Premiershi­p salary cap coming down by £1.4million for next season. Not only can Japanese clubs provide greater security and remunerati­on but they offer a far less taxing schedule with a season that typically runs from January through to May.

Next season will herald a new format and sweeping changes. Clubs will be given control of ticket sales and local broadcasti­ng rights and urged to invest in training facilities. At present the split between profession­al players and amateurs, who work for the corporatio­ns, is around 50-50. That is likely to change while the fiveforeig­n player limit for match-day squads is also under discussion.

Clubs will target younger foreign players who can qualify for Japan through ancestry or residency.

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