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New Zealand star Damian McKenzie is the latest big name to be lured by the riches in the Far East

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New Zealand star Damian McKenzie is the latest big name to be lured by the riches in the Far East and Premiership chiefs fear more top players could head to Japan after the World Cup

  • Damian McKenzie is the latest world star to decide to ply his trade in Japan 
  • Back is enjoying a short but lucrative stint with Japan side Suntory Sungoliath  
  • Decision to reduce salary cap in England is already having a having a big impact
  • And each Premiership club can only have one marquee signing next season 

Damian McKenzie is the latest world star to decide to ply his trade in Japanese rugby and he certainly won’t be the last with the Far East now the go-to destination for the globe’s best players.

Japan Rugby League One has grown exponentially in the last three to four years with its shorter season and high wages a hugely attractive proposition.

New Zealand back McKenzie has followed his fellow All Black Beauden Barrett in having a short but lucrative stint with Japan side Suntory Sungoliath – a team who has England head coach Eddie Jones as their director of rugby in his downtime away from his Rugby Football Union employment.

Damian McKenzie is the latest world star to decide to ply his trade in Japan

Damian McKenzie is the latest world star to decide to ply his trade in Japan

‘The way the rugby is played here is a little bit different to back home,’ McKenzie said. ‘The speed of the game suits the way I like to play. It’s probably not as physical over here, but it’s really quick and the ball is in play for a long period of time.

‘You’re constantly getting opportunities to attack. It was really enticing to come over here and try something new. Japan is a great place.

‘It’s a country I’ve visited before through rugby. The food is unreal and the people are awesome. ‘They’re really welcoming and it was a great opportunity.’

Japan’s domestic rugby scene is only going to continue to grow. England’s Gallagher Premiership is now struggling to attract the game’s top talent and Japan is already benefiting.

The decision to reduce the Premiership’s salary cap from £6.4million to £5m for this season is already having a big impact.

New Zealand back is enjoying a short but lucrative stint with Japan side Suntory Sungoliath

New Zealand back is enjoying a short but lucrative stint with Japan side Suntory Sungoliath

From the start of the 2022/23 campaign, the number of marquee signings for each Premiership clubs – whose salaries sit outside the cap – will also be reduced from two to one.

The bottom line is that there is now simply less money to go around in English club rugby with the result being players are looking elsewhere to earn big in what is a short career.

South Africa’s World Cup-winning scrum-half Faf de Klerk is just one example. De Klerk is leaving Sale at the end of the season to join Japan’s NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.

Not only are English clubs losing players to Japan – where there is no salary cap – they are also seeing their squads raided by teams from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Such a situation – as Exeter’s director of rugby Rob Baxter admitted this week – would have been unthinkable in previous years.

It is understood the heads of recruitment at all 13 Premiership clubs were against the reduction of the salary cap because they knew of the long-term impact it would have not only on trying to attract foreign stars, but also on players leaving. 

McKenzie is set to return to Waikato Chiefs in New Zealand ahead of the 2023 World Cup

McKenzie is set to return to Waikato Chiefs in New Zealand ahead of the 2023 World Cup

‘I got here in December and I’ve loved it,’ McKenzie told Sportsmail from Japan.

‘Suntory is a great club and the Japanese people are so welcoming and respectful. I really enjoy the rugby and the afternoon games are awesome. It’s been fun so far.

‘I’ve always wanted to come back home (to New Zealand) but Japan is definitely a place I’d like to come back to at some stage. It’s been awesome here and I’m loving it.’

McKenzie is set to return to his home side Waikato Chiefs in New Zealand for next season ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

But Sportsmail understands rugby’s top agents are already banging down the door of the Japanese clubs to get their players deals in the Far East for after the tournament in France.

Alongside the reduction of the salary cap, another factor hurting the Premiership is their decision to change how fees are paid to the agents of players.

Previously, those fees were picked up by the clubs but in another cost-saving mission agreed by the Premiership clubs and backed by Premiership Rugby Limited, the players are now the ones responsible.

Japan is benefiting as the England’s Premiership is now struggling to attract the top talent

Japan is benefiting as the England’s Premiership is now struggling to attract the top talent

It is another thing pushing players abroad.

Ultimately, the Premiership is set to lose out. While English rugby looks to get back on track at both club and international level, the presence of England head coach Jones in Japan provoked more fury this week.

Jones is continuing his long-held relationship with Suntory – one the RFU are happy for him to have – despite what seems a clear and obvious conflict of interest.

Suntory and Australia centre Samu Kerevi admitted this week he’s been trying to steal England’s secrets by working with Jones.

Kerevi’s club team-mate McKenzie said of being coached by Jones: ‘It’s been great. It’s the first encounter I’ve had with Eddie and I found him really useful and insightful.

‘He’s come in and helped out where he’s needed and joined with the other coaches who have done a great job throughout the season.

‘He’s a good man and I’ve only had a couple of days to mix in with him. It’s good to have this experience with Eddie coming in and helping out where he can.’ 

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