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Rugby News: RA signs 'landmark' deal with Japan, Wallaby joins French powerhouse, Lealiifano starts against Fiji

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21st July, 2023
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A month after new Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh spoke of strengthening ties with Japan, the governing body has signed a partnership deal with their Pacific ally.

RA announced the “landmark Memorandum of Understanding” with the Japan Rugby Football Union on Friday, with the deal in place until 2029.

At the core of the MOU, it hopes to “build a stronger relationship between the two Unions, and developing national teams, competitions, players, staff and the sport” in the respective regions.

Player development is a focus of the MOU, with pathways just as much a focus as the international level of the game.

The announcement confirmed the Wallaroos would play Tests against Japan between 2024 and 2026, while the men’s team will also benefit with Australia A and the Wallabies due to play in 2024 and 2025.

Rugby Australia and Japan Rugby Football Union have strengthen their ties. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Annual competitions and fixture at junior age, including under-18s and under-20s, as well as other grads in schools and sevens competitions, will also be drawn up.


“This is a wonderful opportunity for our two great nations to strengthen the ties that we already share – not only in rugby, but across trade, tourism and diplomacy,” Waugh said in a statement.

“We have seen tremendous growth in Japanese Rugby in recent years, and it is an exciting time for us to be more actively working within the region on growing the game in Australia and Japan.

“In years to come, we will see more Australian sides playing Japan at home and away, from junior pathways to Test level across both the men’s and women’s game, as well as having our Super Rugby sides playing more games against Japan Rugby League One sides.”

JRFU chairman Kensuke Iwabuchi said he hoped to continue to strengthen their partnership with RA.

“We hope to further accelerate the growth of Japanese Rugby through our close association with Australian Rugby, which has one of the world’s most popular national teams in the Wallabies, and is constantly innovating in the business of sport,” he said.

The partnership comes months after the NZR also signed a MOU with their Japanese ally.


Already the NZR have benefitted from the partnership, with an All Blacks XV side taking on Japan this month.

Last year, Australia A played a Japan XV three times in October ahead of the Wallabies’ Spring Tour.

The tour saw Mark Nawaqanitawase advance his claims for Wallabies inclusion, as well as several others including Ryan Lonergan and Nick Frost.

Phil Waugh indicated he wanted to grow their relationship with Japan at his first address as RA CEO. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Last month, Waugh said RA indicated that they would seek to get closer to Japan.

“There’s a lot to like about what Japan have been doing with rugby,” Waugh told reporters in Sydney.

“In 2007, I think we beat them 150 nil [91-3] or something around that. And then it wasn’t too long until they turned around their performances, beat South Africa, made the quarters [in 2019].


“So there’s lots to like around what Japan have done with their rugby.

“You think about the geography time zones. Again, it’s just about making sure that you’ve got integrity of competition. How’s that working with the company up there? What does it look like from a calendar. I think that we definitely want to work as closely as possible with those located within our region.”

Billy Pollard poses for a portrait during an ACT Brumbies Super Rugby Trans-Tasman captain's run at GIO Stadium on June 10, 2021 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Image

Billy Pollard has signed a short-term deal with La Rochelle. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Another rising star signs short-term deal in France

Rising Wallabies hooker Billy Pollard has joined Test playmaker Noah Lolesio in France.

The 21-year-old has signed a short-term deal with La Rochelle, the reigning European Champions, and will return to Canberra in September ahead of pre-season.

It comes after Lolesio, who was controversially left out of the Wallabies by Eddie Jones, joined Toulon for a short-term World Cup joker contract.


Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said the Super Rugby franchise supported the pair getting more rugby under their belts.

“The club is very supportive of Noah and Billy gaining valuable experience with two top European clubs,” Larkham said.

“For both Billy and Noah, experiencing new rugby environments and culture off the field can only aid in their development as players and people and we look forward to welcoming them back in plenty of time to prepare for the 2024 season.”

Waratahs captain Jake Gordon has joined Lolesio at Toulon.

Christian Leali’ifano will take on Japan on Saturday. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Lealiifano to start for Samoa against Japan

Weeks after being cleared to make his international switch, former Wallabies star Christian Lealiifano will pull on the Samoan jersey against Japan on Saturday.


The former Brumbies playmaker will line up alongside Duncan Paia’aua, who has been selected at inside centre.

Paul Alo-Emile will captain the side at tight-head prop.

Samoa will also see ex-All Blacks star Charlie Faumuina come off the bench, in a huge boast to the side’s depth.

Japan (15-1): Ryohei Yamanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Dylan Riley, Nakano, Jone Naikabula, Seungsin Lee, Yutaka Nagare, Michael Leitch, Kazuki Himeno, Jack Cornelsen, Amato Fakatava, James Moore, Jiwon Gu, Atushi Sakata (c), Keita Inagaki

Reserves: Shota Horie, Craig Millar, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Uwe Helu, Fukui, Naoto Saito, Rikiya Matsuda, Tomoki Osada

Samoa (15-1): Danny Toala, Neria Foma’i, Ulupano Seuteni, Duncan Paia’aua, Tumua Manu, Christian Leali’iafano, Jonathan Taumateine, So’otala Fa’aso’o, Alamanda Motuga, Taleni Seu, Michael Curry, Brian Alainu’uese, Paul Alo-Emile (c), Luteru Tolai, Jordan Lay.

Reserves: Ray Nivia, Tietie Tuimauga, Charlie Faumuina, Genesis Mamea-Lemalu, Miracle Fai’ilagi, Melani Matavao, Martini Talapusi, Ed Fidow.


Fiji, meanwhile, have named a strong side to take on Tonga with plenty of firepower to bring off the bench too.

Queensland Reds prop Peni Ravai has been named at loose-head prop, while Drua halfback Frank Lomani will partner Caleb Muntz in the halves.

Josua Tuisova has been selected at inside centre.

Drua star Tevita Ikanivere will come off the bench alongside Ben Volavola and Semi Radradra.

Fiji (15-1): Sireli Maqala, Jiuta Wainiqolo, Waisea Nayacalevu, Josua Tuisova, Selestino Ravutaumada, Caleb Muntz, Frank Lomani, Albert Tuisue, Levani Botia, Lekima Tagitagivalu, Temo Mayanavanua, Isoa Nasilasila, Mesake Doge, Sam Matavesi, Peni Ravi

Reserves: Tevita Ikanivere, Eroni Mawi, Luke Tagi, Te Ahiwawaru Cirikidaveta, Viliame Mata, Peni Matawalu, Ben Volavola, Semi Radradra

Tonga (15-1): Salesi Piutau, Fine Inisi, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Malakai Fekoitoa, Solomone Kata, Otumaka Mausia, Sonatane Takulua (c), Vaea Fifita, Solomone Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sam Lousi, Ben Tameifuna, Siua Maile, Siegried Fisi’ihoi


Reserves: Samiela Moli, Feao Fotuaika, Tau Koloamatangi, Sitiveni Mafi, Sione Vailanu, Manu Paea, Patrick Pellegrini, Kyren Taumoefolau