Making preparations for move
Two Gisborne rugby players, Hunter Mokomoko and Jordyn Tihore, are in the midst of preparations for a move to play rugby in Japan this year.
Mokomoko has yet to sign a contract but is in discussions with several teams from “Top League”, Japan’s highest level of rugby competition.
Tihore has signed a scholarship agreement to play in Japan’s high school competition.
This weekend they will be joined by 13 other rising stars from across New Zealand for a two-day clinic to prepare for the culture change of moving to play in Japan, all things Covid-19 considered.
During the clinic, run by LRB Sports, attendees will spend the first day in the classroom learning about the culture and traditions of Japan. On the second day they will work with coaches who have experience of rugby in Japan.
LRB founder Luke Bradley said members of the local Japanese community had jumped at the opportunity to help teach the young players about their culture and traditions as part of the clinic.
Japan has a strong cultural identity, and Bradley said he had a long list of “do’s and don’ts” about Japanese culture for their in-class lessons.
“It’s about being humble and embracing their culture . . . like not stabbing into rice with your chopsticks, and never pouring your own glass at a formal gathering.”
The behaviour of players off the field was just as important as their work ethic on the pitch in a culture where reputation was so important, Bradley said.
Fifteen of the best and brightest “emerging players” in Gisborne had also been invited to train and learn alongside the players in attendance.
“It’s a high-performance sort of camp . . . and it gives more (local) players the opportunity to upskill,” Bradley said.
Japan has a lot of appeal for rugby players, with 14 current or former All Blacks, 10 Wallabies and eight Springboks in the Japanese Top League this coming season.
Former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has said players are not just playing overseas to make a quick buck these days, a sentiment echoed by Bradley.
“There’s more longevity, you can play into your late thirties. You’re really well looked after and the contracts are exactly as they’re written. There’s also the opportunity for growth outside of rugby.”
Bradley says he expects Japan to become a major player in world rugby, and he believes they will be in the top echelon of international teams in future.
“Obviously in the past five or six years there’s been a massive boom . . . the infusion of foreign players and coaches fitting into a Japanese game plan; it’s highly skilful now.”