WELLINGTON • All Blacks captain Kieran Read has signed for Japanese club Toyota Verblitz after this year's Rugby World Cup, bringing an end to 13 seasons as a professional in New Zealand.
The 33-year-old No. 8 had already announced he would be bringing down the curtain on his long Test career after he leads New Zealand's quest for a third straight World Cup in Japan.
Although the 118-cap enforcer had long been linked with a big-money move to Parisian club Racing 92, he said he was mindful how his battle-weary body might stand up to the strain of a full season in one of Europe's top leagues.
"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," Read told a media conference in Christchurch yesterday.
"With three kids and a family, (Japan) is a lot closer to home.
"And for my age, and my body, in terms of the amount of footy you play there compared to Europe and the UK, they are probably the main reasons. It offered something pretty unique to be there, and enjoy a slice of Japan life."
Far from Tokyo and Japan's more glamorous destinations, Verblitz are based in the urban sprawl east of manufacturing hub Nagoya, offering Read a properly immersive experience of the emerging rugby nation.
The 2013 World Player of the Year will be the team's highest profile player, but will see some familiar faces, including head coach Jake White, the former World Cup-winning South Africa coach.
Verblitz, who were fourth in the 16-team Top League last season, play some of their home games at Toyota Stadium, which will host four matches during the World Cup, including New Zealand's pool clash with Italy.
Before heading off for the Sept 20-Nov 2 event, Read will also hope to help the Canterbury Crusaders to a third successive Super Rugby title.
His All Blacks coach wished him well after an "outstanding" career.
"He's developed into a fantastic leader who has the utmost respect of all his peers," Steve Hansen said.
"It's fair to say that he is one of the greats of our game."
Read made his All Blacks debut in 2008 and swiftly became the team's first-choice No. 8.
He first tasted captaincy of New Zealand in 2012 and eventually became the full-time skipper after the 2015 World Cup when Richie McCaw retired.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE