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December 6, 2016 14:45

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22:19 27 January 2016

Rugby: Hatakeyama inks short-term deal with English side Newcastle

TOKYO, Jan. 27, Kyodo

Japan and Suntory Sungoliath prop Kensuke Hatakeyama is heading to England to play for Newcastle Falcons on a short-term contract, it was announced Wednesday.

The 30-year-old, who has played 72 times for the Brave Blossoms, recently turned down an offer to play for Japan's new Super Rugby team the Sunwolves, and was critical of the way the team had been set up.

However, the Waseda University graduate was keen to add to his growing reputation following last year's Rugby World Cup and jumped at the opportunity to play in the Aviva Premiership.

"I'm really glad I was given an opportunity to prove myself in the Premiership," he said in a statement released by the Japan Rugby Football Union.

"I believe this challenge with Newcastle Falcons will be a wonderful experience and a chance to improve my rugby, and I'm looking forward to it."

Suntory were also happy to release Hatakeyama, who is contracted to play for the Falcons from February to the end of April.

"We are really happy with Hatakeyama's challenge in the Premiership," the club said.

"We believe his challenge will not only lead to his development, but also that of Sungoliath and Japanese rugby. We will cheer him on hoping that it becomes a great experience (for him) ahead of the new season and the 2019 World Cup in Japan."

Hatakeyama will have a few familiar faces to help him settle down in Newcastle.

Former Suntory and NTT Communications Shining Arcs No. 8 Todd Clever and ex-NEC Green Rockets captain Nili Latu were picked up by the side in the offseason while wing Alesana Tuilagi joined in 2014 after two years with NTT Comms.

No. 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi signed to Bath in December and former Japan coach Eddie Jones said that while he thought it was great to have Japanese players in the Premiership, Hatakeyama would have his work cut out.

"I think it's a great acknowledgement to Japanese rugby that players have come in," Jones, now the England coach, said at a Six Nations press conference in London.

"The Number 8 (Mafi) has gone to Bath. He can definitely play the game, he's an exciting player. He'll tear the Premiership apart if he gets fit and gets selected."

Of Hatakeyama he said, "He's a good tight head prop, he did super well at the World Cup. But he's going to find it difficult here. There's heavy, heavy packs in the Premiership, they scrum for long periods of time, which he is not necessarily used to, so there's going to be some massive adjustments for him."

==Kyodo

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