The PRO Rugby off-season has been very quiet, particularly on the personnel front. This is no surprise, as the core rosters were released very close to the start of the season last year, but it does make for little discussion in the meantime. The most interesting rumor to surface so far is a broad one, regarding professional players in Japan:
Numerous Top League players, including Akihito Yamada have received offers to play in the US. #rugbyjp
— Japan Rugby Club (@JapanRugbyClub) November 29, 2016
(I should note that any reports that broadly mention playing professionally the United States will be treated as PRO Rugby rumors since it is the only professional rugby competition operating stateside at this time. It’s possible but highly unlikely that this rumor is referring to an unsanctioned competition.)
Top League players could be a good fit for PRO Rugby as there is little overlap between the two schedules. The Top League’s schedule runs from August through January, and PRO Rugby is expected to begin its next season in March. The short off-seasons between the two league’s seasons at both ends is a potential issue, but there are players who make a similar scheduling arrangement work in order to play in the Top League and Super Rugby.
Speaking of Super Rugby, Japan’s Sunwolves announced their roster for the upcoming season late last night. Among the surprises is that the player named in the rumor above, Akihito Yamada, is not listed on the roster. It appears that Yamada may be considering playing in the United States for family reasons as his wife, who lives stateside, recently gave birth to twins. Yamada would easily be among the top players in the league if he were to join a PRO Rugby side next season, and adding players of his caliber this early on would make the league that much more palatable to any overseas pros considering the move.
Also left out of the roster is American international Andrew Durutalo, who may now be recommitted to the USA 7s squad but could also surface in PRO Rugby next season. It is likely that Durutalo was pushed out due to the fact that he is not eligible to play for Japan in the future; every player on the Sunwolves roster (with the possible exception of flanker Ed Quirk, who would need to utilize the Olympic loophole to switch) has either been capped by Japan or will be eligible for the Brave Blossoms before the 2019 Rugby World Cup. If this is indeed the new policy of the Sunwolves, then American players have one less landing spot in Super Rugby. It also excludes a number of Top League players that have played internationally for countries other than Japan. For players in that category who can’t find a spot on another Super Rugby squad, PRO Rugby may be an appealing option.