Coronavirus: Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read ‘not really keen’ on returning to Japan

Jack de Menezes
Kieran Read is unsure on if he will return to Japan due to the coronavirus outbreak: Getty

Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read has vowed not to return to Japan until it is safe to do so after following his family back to New Zealand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 34-year-old is currently contracted to Japanese Top League side Toyota Verblitz until the end of next season, but has said that he is “not really keen” to return to the Far East after plans were unveiled to try and resume the rugby season in May, given the events that are unfolding across the globe.

The Japanese government confirmed that 63 new cases of coronavirus were recorded in Tokyo on Saturday, the largest increase in a single day that has prompted fears of a ‘second wave’ outbreak of coronavirus. In total, there have been 1,525 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across the entire country, excluding the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with 362 coming in the capital city.

Read is based in Toyota City, just outside the city of Nagoya, but decided to travel home to New Zealand this week to follow his family, who had already flown back when the schools closed earlier this month.

And with a great deal of uncertainty over not just the future of rugby union in Japan but everyday living on the whole, Read is currently unsure on when – if ever – he will return.

“Nah, not really,” Read told Radio Sport on if he planned on returning to Japan while the coronavirus pandemic continued. “Not in the current climate and with everything going on, I just want to be here with my family.

“It definitely won’t be for me this season. They’re looking at playing in May which I just don’t see happening when they’ve cancelled an event that is over four months away in the Olympics.

“I think I’ll be at home until we actually know how this thing’s going to play out, which I think is going to be a few months or more I guess.”

Japan took the reluctant decision in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee this week to postpone Tokyo 2020 until next year, which signified the extreme circumstances that the nation is currently facing given the previous opposition to postponing the Games at all costs.

Rugby union was one of the first sports in Japan to be postponed, although the plan was to resume the Top League in mid-March only for a drugs scandal to result in authorities calling off all games for the rest of the month. The decision was finally taken this week to abandon the rest of the season, with the coronavirus crisis spreading across the globe, but Japan Rugby still hopes to start the All-Japan Championship in May.

Read is due to travel back to Japan for next season which gets underway in January, but he believes that plan cannot be set in stone right now given no one knows how the next few months will pan out.

“I am contracted for next year in Japan and I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens with this virus,” Read added. “If it’s all gone out of the world and people are travelling around then potentially I could be back up there.”

But the alternative could see Read retire, with the 128-cap All Blacks ending his international career following the 2019 Rugby World Cup where he led New Zealand to a third-place finish as South Africa took their crown as world champions.

Read had planned to end his career in Japan, but the events of the last few weeks suddenly caused him to have a change of heart in order to get back home to New Zealand as soon as possible – though he did have to wait until the season cancellation was confirmed due to his commitments to Toyota Verblitz.

“It was a pretty crazy time when we found out on Monday what was happening in New Zealand, it was pretty essential,” he said.

“My family was back here already which I was thankful for, but yeah, I guess you need to be home as quickly as you could.

“We thought there’s no point hanging around here if we get stuck in a Japan house, which is not too big, it would probably do us all in.

“Obviously things took a turn for the worse. I was prepared to come back and whatever happens with my contract up there, I’m not too sure as yet. But it was more important to come back.”

Read has been playing for Toyota Verblitz since ending his international career (Getty)

But he does fear that the same is not possible for everyone, with a large number of Kiwis playing in Japan.

“I think the majority have come home…everyone was quite in the dark over what each club was going to do because they don’t have a central system and Japan rugby is very late on making decisions about competitions,” he added.

“They haven’t actually ruled out the competition next ... we’re supposed to be playing in May, which seems ridiculous.

“Some guys couldn’t really risk their contracts to come back to New Zealand and potentially have a loss on them. So some guys have stayed up there, and it is relatively safe there at the moment; it’s not in lockdown or anything, but I guess for the majority wanting to be home with family it was probably a bit easier, and knowing your own healthcare system, if things did go to the worse up there in Japan.”

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