In a low scoring affair, the Japan Top League final was played out last weekend in front of 23,000 fans in Tokyo. The pinnacle of Japanese rugby, the defending champions Suntory Sungoliath triumphed 12-8 over the Panasonic Wild Knights.
Even though former All Blacks and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was unable to add to his haul of titles, it is the compounding results of several high profile injuries, which are now making headlines.
Firstly, recently Ulster has broadcast that their new signing would be Stephen Donald. Brought in to replace Christian Lealiifano, the former All Black was to be a senior figure, and probable mentor to younger players. But that signing has been scuttled, as Donald was given a negative medical report after playing in the final a week ago.
Negative Flow-on Affects of Injuries from Japan Top League Final
Stephen Donald had played in the Japan Top League final, and carried an injury in his first-stop in Europe – a medical appointment. And it was found during the process that the popular signing would be out of action before he had even laced up his boots in Ireland.
“Unfortunately, Ulster Rugby is not in a position to proceed with the signing of Stephen Donald, after receiving a medical report on the player yesterday [Sunday],” an Ulster Rugby statement read.
“Stephen had agreed a short-term deal to join the province, but he sustained an injury while representing his club in the final game of the Japanese season, which will rule him out for four-plus weeks.”
Ulster will not be signing Stephen Donald "after receiving a medical report on the player". He was injured in his final game in Japan.
That rounds off a miserable rugby weekend up in Belfast!
— Heads Up Rugby (@Heads_Up_Rugby) January 22, 2018
The bad news follows on after defeat by Wasps had ruined Ulster’s European rugby chances. And with Paddy Jackson unavailable due to court charges pending, it leaves Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes, extremely short on options at fly-half.
Negatives News continues; David Pocock unable to start for Brumbies
As the fall out from the Japan Top League final continues, media reports in Australia are confirming that former Wallabies captain David Pocock is now unable to start the Super Rugby season for the Brumbies, due to a knee injury.
That poor outcome was bad news for both the ACT Brumbies Super Rugby franchise, and Rugby Australia. As much for the Brumbies, who were anticipating the boost which the world-class flanker would have brought.
Now head coach Stephen Larkham must again try to fill the space–as Pocock was unavailable for the whole of the 2017 season, due to a sabbatical. And that contract variation is where Rugby Australia will be digesting the injury news.
Pocock Sabbatical included stint in Japan Top League
Injury aside, the fact that Pocock was playing in Japan was due to a variation on his sabbatical clause. Not only did Pocock negotiate a 12 month break from rugby, but he included a term in the Japanese league–where he had played previously.
While it has been done by players like Jerome Kaino of New Zealand, the idea of a sabbatical including time playing rugby offshore will now cut-deep with Brumbies fans. They will ask “why was he even playing for Panasonic? How did this happen?”
The player himself has told Australian media that “it was certainly a risk [the sabbatical]. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit apprehensive about that much time away from the game. A big part of wanting to come back via Japan was wanting to get back into things.
On returning with a lingering injury, Pocock said “It’s disappointing and frustrating but there’s not much I can do. I’ve been managing it for ages and I could have kept managing it, but the Brumbies management decided they wanted it sorted for it not to be an issue halfway through the season.”
He may return to the competition after the first quarter of the competition is completed; possibly by the Week Seven local derby against the Waratahs.
Injuries have ‘flow on affect’ for Brumbies and Ulster
Injuries are a danger in contact sport, and may come on the training pitch or in a game. But ACT Brumbies supporters will be dumbfounded that the returning star has been removed by a foreign game. And the news will rub salt into the dealings of former Rugby Australia CEO Bill Pulver.
A sabbatical is designed so that a player returns fit – see Israel Folau – so it might be an education on future negotiations.
The ‘flow-on affects’ will be felt by both the Brumbies, and by Ulster. Two professional rugby sides on different sides of the rugby world, but sadly linked by injuries sustained in the Japan Top League final, which will now mean changes and delays to their planning in 2018.
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