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Monday Jul 3, 2023

Second division Japanese side snap up former All Black

Japanese Rugby has grown almost immeasurably over the past decade, with their leagues generating global recognition and their national side having become worldwide giant killers and serious international contenders. A serious force to be reckoned with, very few now doubt their capabilities to compete on the global stage.

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The 2015 World Cup saw the Cherry Blossoms defeat South Africa in possibly the greatest upset of all time – before they were eliminated from the group stages based despite winning three out of their four matches. Fast forward to the 2019 World Cup and they saw off the likes of current world number one Ireland, as well as Scotland, Samoa, and Russia to glide through the group undefeated.

This unprecedented rise from relative minnows to everyone’s second favourite team has created waves for their home rugby market. Players from all around the world are taking their considerable talents to Japanese stadiums, as they look to help build the game in a country that has adopted it with all the enthusiasm that would be expected from a country with such a rich culture.

Japan has seen superstars such as Matt Giteau, Beauden Barrett, and Dan Carter showcase their brilliant skills in the country where rugby is becoming constantly more popular. Many players are choosing to venture to new surroundings during off-season sabbaticals – or look to an enjoyable yet still challenging end to their career.

It’s now the turn of former 18-cap All Black Lima Sopoaga to make the journey to Japan, as he joins up with recently promoted second-division side Koto Blue Sharks. The playmaker started his career in the city he was born up, showing up for Wellington before venturing south to Dunedin to turn out for the Highlanders. It was here he stayed until 2018 when he travelled across the world, signing for English side Wasps and later, Lyon.

Now 32, the former Wellington man has set his sight on a completely new venture as he joins Koto Blue Sharks, a side with big ambitions. Speaking on the club website, Sopoaga emphasised his excitement about the change:

“[I am] Looking forward to heading to SHIMIZU KOTO BLUE SHARKS.

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“I’ve heard only good things from the foreigners who are there. They speak highly of the place. Me and my family are super excited to immerse ourselves in a new culture language and club. I’m excited to give my absolute best.

I am very much looking forward to joining Shimizu Corporation Koto Blue Sharks. I have heard from the players of the Blue Sharks that they are a very good team. Me and my family are very much looking forward to being in a new cultural language and club. I will do my best.”

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