Rugby Union: All Black alarm over Japanese 'poaching'

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NEW ZEALAND'S top rugby union official will fly to Tokyo next weekend to express his alarm at attempts to lure All Black stars to play in Japan, a newspaper said yesterday.

The Sunday Star Times quoted the chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, Eddie Tonks, as saying he knew of attempts to recruit more New Zealanders in addition to the All Black No 8, Zinzan Brooke, who has reportedly been offered a lucrative four-year contract in Japan.

'I'm aware that there is at least one other All Black plus another leading New Zealand player who have received offers,' Tonks told the newspaper. 'I understand the deal is very similar to Zinzan's'

The Sunday Star Times said that there was speculation the All Black lock forward, Robin Brooke, Zinzan's brother, was one of the other players involved.

The part-Maori Brooke brothers represent the cream of New Zealand rugby and their explosive style has been one of the highlights in a relatively lacklustre past few years for the All Blacks.

Tonks has expressed concern that an exodus of leading players would weaken the game in New Zealand and undermine preparation for next year's World Cup. He said last week he had written a strongly worded letter to his Japanese counterpart, Shiggy Kono.

Japanese rugby union does not revolve around club sides, featuring instead teams performing for major companies.

Tonks has been quoted as saying Japanese commercial interests are breaching rugby union's amateur laws. Some New Zealand players in Japan were genuinely employed by the companies that they played for, but others were simply being paid for playing rugby, he said.

Kono told the Sunday Star Times that he felt the current regulations requiring foreigners to spend a year in Japan before they can play, and limiting teams to two imports each were largely working.

He said the issues involved were difficult and 'touchy', but he would try to work out a solution with Tonks.