RANKED | The Top 10 Players Heading To Japan Next Year

RANKED | The Top 10 Players Heading To Japan Next Year

The momentum of rugby's growth in Japan may have slowed since after the Rugby World Cup with Super Rugby and the Top League but when the Top League does return in January next year, it will do so with a bang!

Not only will some of the best players be turning out for their respective Top League side's, but numerous others will also be joining them. Recent reports have suggested that rugby in Japan will return in January with a final season of the Top League which will be used to work out the divisions of the new professional league in Japan.

This will give a number of smaller teams in Japan the opportunity to quickly rise up the ranks in Japan. An opportunity a team like Kintetsu Liners could take advantage of with Will Genia and Quade Cooper in their ranks. 

The likes of Brodie Retallick, Willie Le Roux, Jesse Kriel, Michael Leith and a number of other star players currently contracted to clubs in the land of the rising sun with many more set to join them.

We have ranked the top signings heading to Japan.

10. Owen Williams - NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes

The talented Welsh playmaker, who can play in the centres and at flyhalf follows Johan Ackermann on his way to Japan.

The former Gloucester back joins the Osaka-based club in the Top League and is joined by a number of fellow Gloucester players.

The three-times capped utility back heads to the club after a three-year stay with Gloucester. 

9. Alex Goode - NEC Green Rockets

The current European of the year is set to spend in a season on loan in Japan while his parent club, Saracens, are in the Championship.

The England International can play at both fullback and flyhalf for his new club and will link up with the likes of former All Black Stephen Donald.

He will return to Saracens for the 2021/22 season. Goode's inclusion in 9th place highlights the quality of players heading to Japan! 

8. Liam Gill - NTT Communications Shining Arcs

In another generation, Liam Gill would have likely racked up over 100 test caps for the Wallabies but the incredibly talented openside flanker has been limited to just 15.

Gill left the Reds in 2016 for Toulon and had a stint at Lyon before signing for NTT Communications Shining Arcs.

An outstanding exponent at the breakdown, Gill's test ambitions were hampered by the likes of George Smith, Michael Hooper and David Pocock and is likely to square off against the latter when NTT Communications Shining Arcs square off against the Panasonic Wild Knights. 

7. Greig Laidlaw -  NTT Communications Shining Arcs

The British and Irish Lions and former Scotland captain may be the most popular player head of his arrival in Japan.

During the Rugby World Cup, Laidlaw became a fan favourite and will return to the land of the rising sun on a two-year deal.

Laidlaw is set to form a fantastic halfback pairing with former Wallaby ace Christian Leali'fano.


6. Hadleigh Parkes - Panasonic Wild Knights


A skilful and hard as nails centre, Hadleigh Parkes has been recruited by former Wallabies' head coach Robbie Deans to fill the vacancy Damian de Allende left at the Japanese club.

Parkes' form at the Rugby World Cup and during the Six Nations suggested he may just make the Lions tour to South Africa but the New Zealand-born back will be spending the season in Japan.

At Panasonic, he will link up with the likes of Japan stars Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie and former Wallaby flanker David Pocock.

5. George Kruis - Panasonic Wild Knights

Joining Parkes at Ota-based Panasonic Wild Knights is British and Irish Lions lock George Kruis.

The former Saracens' lock joins the club on a permanent deal and has expressed his desire to continue playing test rugby for England while in Japan.

Like Parkes, Kruis has been recruited to replace a departing test star. Robbie Deans has been added Kruis to his payroll to replace All Black Sam Whitelock.

4. Aaron Cruden - Kobe Kobelco Steelers

Kobe Kobelco Steelers head coach Dave Dillon haad the near-impossible task of replacing All Black legend Dan Carter at the club but he has found a fitting replacement in Aaron Cruden.

Cruden is currently representing the Chiefs and is set to turn out in the Mitre 10 Cup before making the switch to Japan. The 50 test cap flyhalf spent time in France with Montpellier before returning to New Zealand. 

3. Franco Mostert - Honda Heat

RG Snyman's departure to Munster meant that the club was in need of a new second-rower and they found a fitting replacement in fellow Springbok Franco Mostert.

Mostert joins the club having left Premiership club Gloucester who he joined from Johannesburg side Lions.

The World Cup winner follows Snyman who made a massive impact at the side during his short stint in 2020.

2. Makazole Mapimpi - NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes

Makazole Mapimpi starred in Japan scoring a hat-trick in the clash against the Brave Blossoms before the Rugby World Cup before dotting down against the hosts in the quarter-final.

He scored a total of 5 tries during the World Cup and is likely to have a similar impact at NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes where he will join Johan Ackermann - who coached the flyer in South Africa A's clash against the French Barbarians.

One of the best wingers in the game, Mapimpi could chalk up a number five-pointers in the Top League. 

Notable mentions

Before we look at the top player joining the Top League, we name a few notable mentions who just missed out on the cut.

Joining Johan Ackermann is Japan is former Gloucester back Tom Marshall as well as Gloucester hooker Franco Marias.

South African centres Johnny Kôtze and Benhard Janse van Rensburg both head to the Top League with former Bulls back Kôtze joining Shimizu Blue Sharks while Cheetahs' centre van Rensburg heads to NEC Green Rockets. 

Another former All Black flyhalf Colin Slade heads to Japan signing for Mitishbushi Dynaboars where he joins fellow All Black Jackson Hemopo.

Johan Ackermann also did some shopping in South Africa recruiting promising Lions flanker Ruan Vermaak with Melbourne Rebels hooker Anaru Rangi joining Laidlaw and Gill at NTT Communications Shining Arcs.

Finally, former Bath ace Freddie Burns joins Toyota Industries Shuttles who also have Tusi Pisi on their payroll.

1. Beauden Barrett - Suntory Sungoliath

Easily the biggest name to head to Japan, the All Blacks playmaker is set to be hit in Japan joining Suntory Sungoliath.

Barrett plugs two major holes in the Suntory side's line up with legendary Wallaby Matt Giteau and Japan star Kotaro Matsushima both departing the club.

The Blues star could easily slip into fullback or flyhalf for the Japanese club that has had its fair share of superstars in the past.

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