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All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett to play in Japan

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett on Friday confirmed he has signed a one-year deal to play for Suntory Sungoliath in Japan’s Top League club rugby competition.

Barrett is in the first year of a four-deal with the Auckland-based Blues in Super Rugby but has exercised a “sabbatical” option which allows him to take up a short-term contract overseas. He will join the Tokyo-based club next year, returning to New Zealand in time for the 2021 international season.

The deal reportedly is worth $1.5 million, making Barrett one of the highest-paid players in world rugby.

“For me it made sense to go next year and then have two years back with the Blues and hopefully the All Blacks in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup,” Barrett said. “My wife and I are excited to head to Japan next year. It is an appealing place for a young family and comparatively safe in health terms.

“While the excitement about heading to Japan will build closer to the time, I’ll also be looking forward to being back later in 2021.”

Suntory Sungoliath is coached by New Zealander Milton Haig while Australia-born England coach Eddie Jones is director of rugby.

Barrett, who is a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, indicated after last year’s World Cup in Japan that he would like to return to play there. He is the latest leading All Black to exercise a sabbatical option which allows them to play overseas while remaining available for New Zealand.

Barrett’s All Blacks teammates Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick both were playing in Japan this year before the Top League season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The arrangement is similar to what was in place for Beaudy’s All Blacks teammates Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock who played in Japan this year,” Chris Lendrum, New Zealand Rugby’s manager of professional rugby said. “That flexibility in our contracting is key. It allows our top players to refresh in a different rugby environment but remain committed to New Zealand Rugby which, in the long term, is great for both parties.”

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said he had expected to be without Barrett in 2021.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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