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[ODDS and EVENS] All Blacks Help Elevate Level of Japan Rugby League One

Current All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith will join the Toyota Verblitz after the 2023 Rugby World Cup, giving the fledgling league more star power.

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Two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, seen playing for the Suntory Goliath in February 2021, is returning to Japan after the Rugby World Cup to play for the Toyota Verblitz in Japan Rugby League One. (ⒸSANKEI)

Read the full story on SportsLook - [ODDS and EVENS] All Blacks Help Elevate Level of Japan Rugby League One

Investing in top-level foreign players, including current and former All Blacks, is a smart developmental plan for Japan Rugby League One teams.

After all, the New Zealand national team has had astounding success on the global stage. Three Rugby World Cup titles (1987, 2011, 2015) are a historic reminder of the All Blacks' overall excellence and wealth of talent.

To elevate the level of competition in Japan, accomplished players from anywhere on earth should be considered candidates for contracts.

Japan Rugby League One, which kicked off its second season in mid-December, is home to 12 first-division teams. Last season, the Toyota Verblitz placed fifth, 20 points behind the inaugural champion Tokyo Sungoliath.

In the current campaign, the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights (7-0), the last remaining unbeaten squad, are the cream of the crop. Meanwhile, the Verblitz (2-5) are off to a slow start, but team management has long-term ambitions of marked improvement.

Although the 2022-23 season will wrap up in May, the Verblitz are laying the groundwork for what they hope will help produce more success in 2023-24.

All Blacks Beauden Barrett, a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year (2016 and 2017), and Aaron Smith are a major part of those plans. The veteran players will join the Verblitz after the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France wraps up in late October, the Aichi Prefecture-based Toyota squad announced on February 7.

For Japanese rugby fans, the start of the 2023-24 season can't come soon enough. Having these two globally-renowned players (and numerous others from foreign countries) in League One can only push all players to raise the level of competition.

In other words, it's a win-win situation.

All Blacks
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett in action against England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Yokohama. (ⒸSANKEI)

Barrett, One of the All Blacks' All-Time Greats

Barrett, 31, has earned 112 caps in his storied career for the All Blacks. A two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, he was one of the driving forces behind New Zealand's title-winning effort at the 2015 RWC in England, where Steve Hansen coached the All Blacks to victory.

Hansen held the top post from 2012-19. He now serves as the Verblitz's director of rugby.

So, in a way, Barrett's career has come full circle. Hansen's word carries weight within the Verblitz organization, and their renewed alliance should be a boon for the Japan Rugby League One squad.

Read the full story on SportsLook.

Author: Ed Odeven

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Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven

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