24 Nov 2023

Chiefs and Blues take pre-season to Japan

2:13 pm on 24 November 2023
Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues, Super Rugby Pacific at FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand on the Saturday 1 April 2023. Copyright Photo: Jeremy Ward / www.photosport.nz

Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs. Chiefs v Blues, Super Rugby Pacific at FMG Stadium, Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand on the Saturday 1 April 2023. Copyright Photo: Jeremy Ward / www.photosport.nz Photo: Jeremy Ward

The Blues and Chiefs are taking pre-season on the road this February, with the newly established 'Cross-Border Rugby 2024' seeing the two New Zealand Super Rugby Pacific sides take on four teams from Japan Rugby's League One.

The matches will take place in early February, with an eye towards making the exchange a regular fixture on the rugby calendar in the coming years.

The Blues will play the Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath on the 3rd February where they'll meet former Blues First-Five Gareth Anscombe, before taking on the Yokohama Canon Eagles on 10th February where former Blues lock Liaki Moli plies his trade.

Blues CEO Andrew Hore said the matches are the start of an exciting 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 pre-season 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 2024 DHL Super Rugby season."

Hore was also keen to point out the need for fostering 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."

The Chiefs will reunite with former team-mate Lachlan Boshier when they face the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights on 4th February, while the following weekend they will play the Kubota Spears Funabashi - Tokyo Bay, who All Blacks hooker Dane Coles recently joined.

Chiefs Rugby Club CEO, Simon Graafhuis said: "The MOU signed between Japan Rugby Union (JPU) and New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has created a fantastic opportunity to take the Gallagher Chiefs outside of the traditional markets of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, and along with the Blues we will get a chance to showcase the New Zealand style of Super Rugby.

"We know from the excitement shown by JRU around the competition, and the response from locals to All Black and All Black XV games, there will be good demand for the games. Hopefully, this will help us grow our fan base in Japan."

Graafhuis also highlighted the long-standing relationship the club has with Japan.

"We have been fortunate to historically collaborate with the Kobelco Kobe Steelers. There has been a strong connection through past coaches and players in the Kobe environment - people like Wayne Smith, Dave Rennie, Dave Dillon and Nick Holten have been involved with coaching both the Kobe and the Gallagher Chiefs. On the playing side, some great Chiefs have played for Kobe, including Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick and Bryn Gatland.''

Meanwhile, Japan Rugby League One Chairman, Genichi Tamatsuka, said he was thrilled to welcome the Kiwi sides to Japan.

"Fans, get ready for world-class rugby," Tamatsuka said.

"This marks the realization 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," he said

New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson was equally excited for the opportunity.

"It is great to see the Gallagher Chiefs and Blues playing pre-season matches in Japan, this was one of the opportunities we identified when signing the Memorandum of Understanding with Japan Rugby earlier this year so it's nice to see it come to fruition," Robinson said.

Match Schedule:

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