Turning Japanese

Dave Walder talks to Sky Sports rugby union writer Tony Curtis about why a number of players are opting to play in Japan

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 08/04/13 8:39am

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Japan is quickly becoming the must-go destination for players around the globe.

New Zealand internationals Stephen Donald, who kicked the winning penalty in the 2011 World Cup final, and Anthony Boric are the latest high-profile names to confirm they will be turning out in the Top League.

They will join up with the likes of Shane Williams, George Smith, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Alesana Tuilagi, Mils Muliaina, Adam Thomson, Jerome Kaino and Riki Flutey.

Prior to that Sonny Bill Williams, George Gregan, Reuben Thorne, Ma'a Nonu, James Haskell and Stephen Larkham were among the most notable players to ply their trade in Japan.

Those that have made the switch, though, have been accused of putting money ahead of their careers, particularly given the standard of competition compared to the likes of Super Rugby, Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12.

However former England, Newcastle and Wasps fly-half Dave Walder, who spent two seasons with the Mitsubishi Dynaboars, insists there is more to moving to Japan than an easy payday.

"The rugby is really enjoyable. It is a bit like schoolboy rugby from back in the day, where no one tackles above the waist, offloads are encouraged and the game is played at a frantic pace."
Dave Walder

"The money is obviously a huge factor but for me I went there because I wanted the lifestyle," Walder told Sky Sports.


"I had wanted a two-year deal but Wasps only offered me a one-year deal, so I had been looking at France but some of my friends had, had bad experiences out there while others had loved it. It was then that the opportunity in Japan came up.

"For those players from New Zealand it is ideal. It is halfway between Europe and home for them and the time difference is only two or three hours. The season is also shorter so you can spend a lot more time with the family.

"The rugby is really enjoyable. It is a bit like schoolboy rugby from back in the day, where no one tackles above the waist, offloads are encouraged and the game is played at a frantic pace. It is fast and loose. It is like Sevens with 15 men on the pitch with lots of big scores.

"In England I hadn't had a kick charged down in ages but in my first game in Japan I had two charged down in the first five minutes as it is so fast and open I couldn't see them coming but it is all good fun.

"If you look at someone like Shane Williams. He was tempted out of retirement for his own reasons but he has signed another contract because he really enjoys it.

"There is also less of an impact on the body. The last couple of years in England I would wake up the day after a game and would be knackered while the body was battered and bruised. In Japan you just feel tired the next day from all the running but the body remains in good shape. It is nice feeling not to need a couple of days to recover."


Walder's time in Japan came to an end this year, with the Dynaboars having agreed a deal to bring in Donald and the clubs limited to the amount of foreign players they can field.

However Walder could still return to Japan with 34-year-old currently weighing up his options as he looks to take the next steps into coaching.

Walder, who has had talks with Premiership, Championship and National One clubs since his return to the UK, said: "There is still the potential opportunity to go back out to Japan so I will have to see what happens.

"It would be perfect place for a young coach to start. Japanese player do as they are told so you can try things out and no one will complain.

"When I was out there I took a kicking session and I tried to work on loads of different things but the session didn't go well. I was told just to work on one or two things and the players would do it. If you did that in England players would start doing other stuff as they want to be challenged all the time.

"If I am able to get a break and the opportunity was right then I would jump at the chance."

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