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December 4, 2016 4:40

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15:33 5 February 2016

Rugby: Japanese involvement in offshore Super Rugby continues to grow

By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, Feb. 5, Kyodo

Japanese involvement in this year's Super Rugby competition increased Friday with news that Kotaro Matsushima had signed for the Rebels, sources confirming Hiroshi Yamashita was heading down to New Zealand for a trial with the Chiefs and a Japanese company announcing a partnership with the Reds.

Matsushima will be the fourth Japanese player to represent the Rebels in as many years -- following in the footsteps of Shota Horie, Male Sa'u and Keita Inagaki.

The 22-year-old utility back, who was part of the Waratahs squad last year, will join the Melbourne-based Rebels on a short term contract at the end of February from Suntory Sungoliath.

"I am very excited to have this great opportunity for the second straight year (in Super Rugby)," Matsushima said. "I know that this challenge with the Rebels will help me grow and improve my rugby skills."

Matsushima made his debut for Japan in 2014, scoring two tries against the Philippines, and has gone on to win 16 caps, appearing for the Brave Blossoms in all four of their games at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"We at Suntory Sungoliath are very thrilled to announce Kotaro Matsushima's opportunity with Super Rugby Team Melbourne Rebels," Suntory said in a statement.

"We believe that his new challenge will lead to a big development and growth for not only Kotaro Matsushima but also for Sungoliath and Japan Rugby."

Matsushima will be the seventh Japanese player to join an Australian or New Zealand Super Rugby side for the 2016 season, providing Yamashita signs a deal with the Chiefs.

On Thursday, Kobe Kobelco Steelers announced Yamashita would be joining the Chiefs.

However on Friday, reports from New Zealand said the 30-year-old tighthead prop was at this stage just one option open to Dave Rennie after the Chiefs lost Nepo Laulala for the season with a knee injury.

Rennie told reporters in New Zealand earlier in the week he was still deciding on a replacement, with a local player and an overseas player being weighed up as options.

Yamashita was already set to go to Hamilton as part of an arrangement Kobe Steel have with the Chiefs, but his trip was brought forward to allow Rennie to see if the 120-kilogram prop has what it takes to play Super Rugby.

Meanwhile the Ayumu Goromaru factor continued with the Japan fullback's new Super Rugby Club signing a deal with Japanese gas appliance company Rinnai that will see the company's logo feature on the collar of the Reds Super Rugby jersey.

"As a Japanese company, we are happy to be supporting the Reds team, who will be welcoming Japanese Rugby sensation Ayumu Goromaru in the upcoming season," said Rinnai Australia Managing Director Greg Ellis.

The other Brave Blossoms to play for sides other than Japan's Sunwolves are Sa'u (Blues), Michael Leitch (Chiefs), Fumiaki Tanaka (Highlanders) and Hendrik Tui (Reds).

==Kyodo

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