New Zealand captain Kieran Read confirmed Wednesday that he will join Top League side Toyota Verblitz on a two-year contract following this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.
"My family and I are looking forward to an overseas experience and Japan presents an awesome opportunity to immerse ourselves in Japanese culture as part of the Toyota club," the 118-test veteran said in a press release. "I feel the time is right to make this announcement on my playing future, so that I can focus my efforts on the season ahead."
The news comes two days after the Aichi Prefecture-based side, which finished fourth in the Top League and won the Top League Cup in the 2018-2019 season, announced that Springboks fullback Willie le Roux had signed for the team. Toyota also signed former South Africa assistant coach Gert Smal, adding him to the staff of current head coach Jake White.
"We would like to announce that we have signed Kieran Read for the upcoming 2019 Top League season," the club tweeted Wednesday. "We have also press released about signing of Willie Le Roux on Monday March 4. We look forward to playing with these players in the 2019 TL season."
According to reports from South Africa, Smal, who helped White coach South Africa to victory at the 2007 World Cup, has been lined up to replace his former boss.
(All Black captain Kieran Read is presented with the Hillary Shield following the Quilter International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on Nov. 10, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.)[Getty/Kyodo]
White told Netwerk24 that Smal was the ideal man to take over as head coach once he departs.
"My contract with Verblitz expires after the World Cup. It's good to have a transition so that there is continuity once I pack my bags," said White.
"I've been at Verblitz for three years now and the plan was always for me to move on after the World Cup. Gert also wants to be a head coach again and this will be a good way to make the transition."
(Gert Smal pictured in August, 2005)[Getty/Kyodo]
Read took over as full-time All Blacks captain from Richie McCaw in 2016 and has led the three-time world champions to 43 wins in 49 tests.
He was named World Rugby's Player of the Year in 2013, and has Rugby World Cup winners' medals from 2011 and 2015 in his trophy cabinet.
"On behalf of New Zealand Rugby and the All Blacks, I'd like to acknowledge the fantastic contribution that Reado has made to our game," said NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew. "His performances on the park speak for themselves: he's played 118 tests and started 111 of them, which is an outstanding achievement."
(Willie Le Roux in Febuary 2019)[Getty/Kyodo]
While Read and likely le Roux will join up with Verblitz following the World Cup, Smal is expected to play a role in the Top League Cup, which features the 16 Top League sides and eight Top Challenge League sides and runs from June 22 to Aug. 10.
The 2019-2020 Top League will start in January 2020, having been pushed back as a result of the World Cup, and there is a possibility that there will be two TL seasons within one calendar year with the 2020-2021 season running from August through to December.