All Blacks and Blues superstar Beauden Barrett has signed a short-term deal with a Japanese club that will see him leave New Zealand in December.
The Blues have confirmed this morning the 29-year-old has signed a one-year deal with Suntory after reports surfaced this morning he had signed with the Japanese club on a deal worth $1.5 million-per-year. The report differed in stating it was for two years.
"Barrett, who signed a four-year deal with New Zealand Rugby and the Blues last year, will miss next year’s Super Rugby season and play for the Suntory Sungoliath club based in Tokyo, before returning to New Zealand for the 2021 international season," the Auckland franchise said in a statement.
"He will then remain in New Zealand for the rest of his contract until 2023. The plan to play in Japan in 2021 is part of Barrett’s four-year deal agreed last year with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Blues."
It’s understood New Zealand Rugby agreed to the move to help ease the financial hit of the coronavirus pandemic.
“For me it made sense to go next year and then have two years back with the Blues and hopefully the All Blacks in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup,” Barrett said.
“My wife and I are excited to head to Japan next year. It is an appealing place for a young family and comparatively safe in health terms.
“The Super Rugby Aotearoa competition has been an amazing experience. It’s been brutal and demanding which is what you expect when New Zealand teams play each other.
“I’m loving every minute of it and having such big crowds turning out has been fantastic.
“I am loving the move to the Blues and we still have a job to do this season. It is an excellent environment with great coaching and an awesome bunch of dedicated players.
“While the excitement about heading to Japan will build closer to the time, I’ll also be looking forward to being back later in 2021.”
Barrett is currently playing for the Blues after departing the Hurricanes last season and his impact has already been noted with the Auckland franchise top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition ladder thanks to three straight wins – all of which he’s started at fullback in.
NZR general manager for professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum said the arrangement is similar to what was in place for other All Blacks such as Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.
"That flexibility in our contracting is key: it allows our top players to refresh in a different rugby environment but remain committed to New Zealand Rugby which, in the long term, is great for both parties."
Blues Head Coach Leon MacDonald added his coaching group had always planned to be without Barrett for the 2021 season.
“Our focus is fully on the current campaign but we have plans for next year without Beaudy. He will be a big loss but that is countered with what he is doing on and off the field this year, and that we get him for two more years.
“We have Otere Black playing terrific rugby, and Harry Plummer who has been coming off the bench, while we will have Stephen Perofeta back next season from injury.”