All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo’unga says that he can see himself playing the rest of his career in Japan.
The playmaker has arrived in the land of the rising sun following the Rugby World Cup, where he helped New Zealand reach the final, losing to rivals South Africa 12-11.
Ahead of the World Cup, Mo’unga signed a three-year deal with Japanese Rugby League One (JRLO) side Toshiba Brave Lupus, which has paused his international career.
Giving his all in Japan
However, the 29-year-old states that he is not thinking about a future return to the All Blacks and is fully focused on his new club career after an incredibly successful period with the Crusaders, winning seven Super Rugby titles.
“I’m focused on the present; I just want to give all I can to Toshiba,” Mo’unga told reporters in Japan.
“I really can see myself playing here as long as I can until I retire.”
Fellow All Black Shannon Frizell has also signed for Toshiba ahead of the new Japanese season, while World Cup teammates Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea will also be playing in Japan.
Cane and Savea have signed short-term – sabbatical – deals and will return in time to feature for the All Blacks next year, while Barrett has been linked with a return to New Zealand at a later date.
However, Mo’unga’s move is a bit more long-term, and he adds, “At this very point, the All Blacks is over there.”
“I don’t like using the term ‘sabbatical’; this isn’t a rest for me, it’s not a one-year thing. I’m fully involved and fully committed,” he added.
His move to Japan means he is no longer eligible for the All Blacks, and early this year, he warned that more New Zealand players would leave at a younger age and that NZR should consider changing their eligibility laws.
“There’s a mix of players wanting to represent their country and have a good crack at the international level, but they’re also left with a decision around life after footy, understanding that there’s not a big period of time that you actually do play rugby,” he said back in January.
“You come over here to make some good coin. It’s important for them and their families also.”
A new challenge
Mo’unga earned his 56th Test cap for the All Blacks in the final against South Africa and has spent his entire career to date in Canterbury.
He played over 50 times for Canterbury in the NPC and over 100 Super Rugby games for the Crusaders but is now looking forward to a change of scenery in Japan.
“Every year for a long number of years, it’s been the same, same, same,” he explained.
“This is an experience for myself to test my abilities in a different environment.”
The new JRLO season kicks off in early December, with Mo’unga likely to make his tournament debut against the Shizuoka Blue Revs on December 9.