WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks captain Kieran Read has signed up to play with Japanese club Toyota Verblitz after this year’s World Cup, bringing an end to 13 seasons as a professional in New Zealand.
The 33-year-old number eight had already announced he would be bringing down the curtain on his long test career after he leads New Zealand’s quest for a third straight World Cup title in Japan later this year.
Although the 118-cap enforcer had long been linked with a big-money move to Parisian club Racing 92, he said he was mindful how his battle-weary body might stand up to the strain of a full season in Europe’s top leagues.
“With three kids and a family, (Japan) is a lot closer to home,” Read told a media conference in Christchurch on Wednesday.
“And for my age, and my body, in terms of the amount of footy you play there compared to Europe and the UK. They are probably the main reasons.
“It offered something pretty unique to be there, and enjoy a slice of Japan life.”
Far from Tokyo and Japan’s more glamorous destinations, Toyota Verblitz are based in the urban sprawl east of manufacturing hub Nagoya, offering Read a properly immersive experience of the emerging rugby nation.
The 2013 World Player of the Year will easily be the team’s highest profile player, but will see some familiar faces, including head coach Jake White, the former World Cup-winning South Africa coach.
Toyota Verblitz, who were fourth in the 16-team league last season, have a heavy South African flavour and announced this week they had signed 53-test Springboks fullback Willie le Roux as they look to push for their first title.
They play some of their home games at Toyota Stadium, which will host four matches during the World Cup, including New Zealand’s pool clash with Italy.
Before heading off for the World Cup, Read will also hope to help the Canterbury Crusaders to a third successive Super Rugby title once he returns to the team after another three weeks or so.
“I think it is always hard leaving a place that I have been a part of for a number of years, 13 years or so,” he said.
“So that will be hard when I get to that point. Right now, to be honest, it just a decision being made and I am sure when we get to the end of the season with the Crusaders and All Blacks there will be different emotions coming on then.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant in Tokyo; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty