Flyhalf Barrett to play in Japan, miss Super Rugby in 2021

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Beauden Barrett will miss Super Rugby next year and play for Suntory Sungoliath in Japan’s Top League but the flyhalf will be available for the All Blacks international programme, the Auckland Blues said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Italy v New Zealand - Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy - November 24, 2018 New Zealand's Beauden Barrett celebrates after the match REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Barrett has a four-year contract with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Blues through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which included an option of a playing sabbatical overseas.

“The arrangement is similar to what was in place for Beaudy’s All Blacks team mates Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock who played in Japan this year,” NZR’s Head of Professional Rugby Chris Lendrum said in a statement.

“That flexibility in our contracting is key: it allows our top players to refresh in a different rugby environment but remain committed to New Zealand Rugby which, in the long term, is great for both parties.”

British media reported the twice World Player of the Year had signed a two-year contract worth about NZ$1.5 million (£783,759.93) a year, which would have made him ineligible for the All Blacks until 2023.

The Blues, however, said he would be available for the All Blacks in 2021.

Barrett, who made the shift north to the Blues this year after nine seasons with the Wellington Hurricanes, had an extended off-season following last year’s World Cup in Japan.

“I’m excited to be joining the Suntory Rugby team and for my family to experience more of the Japanese lifestyle and culture,” he said in a statement.

Barrett did not play in Super Rugby before it was suspended due to COVID-19 but made his debut for the Blues against the Hurricanes in the domestic ‘Super Rugby Aotearoa’ competition which started last month.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said the 29-year-old would be a “big loss”.

“But that is countered with what he is doing on and off the field this year, and that we get him for two more years,” he added.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury and Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ken Ferris/Ed Osmond/Peter Rutherford