The Blues are set to square off against Sam Cane’s new team as part of a two-match preseason tour to Japan in February.
The Blues and Chiefs today confirmed plans to play two preseason matches each against four leading League One sides in Japan early next year.
The move comes after New Zealand Rugby earlier this year signed a memorandum of understanding with the Japan Rugby Football Union.
Preseason matches in Japan are, therefore, expected to become regular fixtures on the calendar in the coming years for New Zealand Super Rugby teams.
At that time of year, All Blacks are not expected to feature on the field.
In Vern Cotter’s first match in charge the Blues will play the Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath on February 3 where they’ll meet Sam Cane while he is on his six-month sabbatical. Former Blues, Chiefs and Welsh playmaker Gareth Anscombe also plays for Suntory.
The Blues, last year’s losing semifinalists, then play the Yokohama Canon Eagles on February 10 where former Blues lock Liaki Moli plies his trade.
The Chiefs play the Robbie Deans-coached Panasonic Wild Knights on February 4 before meeting the Kubota Spears, where former All Blacks hooker Dane Coles has joined, six days later.
The defending champion Crusaders will also embark on an overseas preseason sojourn to Ireland and England, facing United Rugby Championship winners Munster, and the Bristol Bears, on February 4 and February 10.
Blues chief executive Andrew Hore said the matches are the start of a partnership with Japan’s League One and form part of a wider strategy to reinvigorate Super Rugby.
“We’ve seen the evolution of Japanese rugby in recent times and it’s a market we see significant value in as it grows in popularity and we start to redefine our own competition,” Hore said.
“This trip adds another layer to our preseason at the Blues. It gives players and coaches quality time away in a tour environment to foster relationships and develop combinations ahead of what should be an exciting Super Rugby season.”
Hore pointed out the need to grow strong global club relationships as the prospect of a Global Club Championship looms in the coming years.
“Global club connections are vitally important and this trip will help to develop our footprint in Japan while also giving fans a chance to compare different teams and styles of rugby from different parts of the world.”
Japan Rugby League One chairman, Motoichi Tamatsuka, said he was thrilled to welcome the Kiwi sides to Japan.
“Fans, get ready for world-class rugby,” Tamatsuka said. “This marks the realisation of our plan to host matches between top-level club teams and League One teams since the inception of our league.
“We see this as an opportunity to showcase the presence and value of Japan Rugby League One on the global stage and are preparing for an exceptional event, with potential expansion in mind.”
Match 1: February 3, 2024 (Saturday) - Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath vs Blues at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium
Match 2: February 4, 2024 (Sunday) - Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights vs Gallagher Chiefs at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium
Match 3: February 10, 2024 (Saturday) - Kubota Spears Funabashi-Tokyo Bay vs Gallagher Chiefs at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium
Match 4: February 10, 2024 (Saturday) - Yokohama Canon Eagles vs Blues at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium
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