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All Blacks star Beauden Barrett ends Japan stint empty-handed

The 29-year-old will now join Super Rugby’s Blues on a two-year contract.

Image: Speed Media

ALL BLACK Beauden Barrett ended his one-season stint in Japan empty-handed after losing in Sunday’s Top League final, but hinted he may return after the 2023 World Cup.

Barrett will now join Super Rugby’s Blues on a two-year contract that takes him up to the World Cup in France, where he hopes to appear for the All Blacks in his favoured fly-half position.

But the 29-year-old said he could come back to Japan one day, having had his short stay in the country dampened by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve signed for two more years with New Zealand Rugby, and after that, who knows?” Barrett said after his Suntory Sungoliath side lost 31-26 to Panasonic Wild Knights in Tokyo.

“I’d love to come back. I’ve really enjoyed my time here and there’s a lot of rugby to be played between now and the World Cup, so I’m just looking forward to getting back to New Zealand and focussing on what I can do there in the next few years.”

Barrett arrived in Japan in January, just days before Tokyo and other parts of the country declared a virus state of emergency, with infections surging.

Restrictions have remained in place for most of the year, denying Barrett the opportunity to make the most of his sabbatical.

“We were hoping to experience the social aspect of it as well, but given the situation, it’s not possible,” he said.

Barrett had an afternoon to forget in the final, with Panasonic centre Dylan Riley intercepting his pass in the fifth minute to score the opening try.

A late Suntory fightback was not enough to prevent Panasonic from lifting the trophy, with former Japan winger Kenki Fukuoka stealing Barrett’s thunder in his last game before retiring.

Fukuoka, who was instrumental in Japan’s run to the quarter-finals on home soil at the 2019 World Cup, was playing his last game before quitting to train to become a doctor.

The flying winger went out with a bang, scoring in the first half to put Panasonic in control.

“I haven’t really been thinking too much about retiring, so it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Fukuoka, who began his studies in April.

“I think it will when I’ve been away from the game for a while. But what I can say for sure right now is that I did everything I wanted to in my career.”

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Fukuoka was set to play for Japan’s sevens team at the Tokyo Olympics, but decided to focus on his studies instead when the Games were postponed for a year because of the pandemic.

Fans at Sunday’s game paid tribute to one of Japanese rugby’s most popular figures.

“I start welling up just thinking about how it’s his last game today,” Panasonic fan Megumi Omura told AFP before the game.

“For him to give up the game he loves when he’s at his peak to study to become a doctor shows you how amazingly determined he is. I’ve got so much respect for him.”

“I’ll be supporting him in whatever he does for the rest of his life,” she added.

© – AFP, 2021

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