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Saturday, 25 November 2017 04:36 pm

Foreign players adding flavour to capital club rugby competition

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About 20 Japanese enhancing their rugby skills in Wellington were among a record number of visitors to New Zealand in the year to September.

Visitor numbers increased by 11.4% to nearly 3.4 million for the past 12 months, up from just over 3 million in 2015 and 2.8 million from 2014.

The figures were released in Statistics New Zealand’s monthly International Travel and Migration report.

This year’s Wellington rugby club competition saw the Japanese influx among the 3500 registered players.

Some of them play in the professional leagues in Japan.

“We have overseas players come and play and it adds to the flavour of our club competition” says Wellington Rugby Union head of community rugby Will Caccia-Birch.

“They get to experience the Wellington rugby way of life.

“If we can provide them with an experience then Wellington rugby benefits from that,” Will says.

Clubs like Johnsonville RFC and Upper Hutt Rams hosted a range of players from Fiji, Samoa, America, Japan, and France.

The Johnsonville club welcomed players from Europe, America, Cyprus and the Pacific Islands, says premier assistant coach Garry Archer, who is himself originally from the UK.

“They see rugby as a big part of the culture.

“They are just looking for the overall experience, they look for it as part of a New Zealand experience.

“Other ones are looking to come to New Zealand to further their career.”

Garry says the players walked away from the club enjoying their rugby despite the results not entirely going their way at Johnsonville.

For example, George Shaouna has taken what he has learned from playing at Johnsonville and is applying it for the Cyprus national team.

Upper Hutt Rams had players from Samoa, Fiji and Japan play across all their teams.

Fillipe Rayasi, development officer from Upper Hutt Rams, says the players brought enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.

Fillipe says the players from Fiji and Samoa came to study in Auckland. “They wanted the challenge of playing club rugby so we brought them down.

“They loved the experience,” says Fillipe.

However it is not one way traffic, with Garry Archer pointing out many New Zealand players go overseas to play rugby, particularly to the UK.

Record numbers of New Zealanders are also travelling overseas with 2.54 million departing in September 2016, a 160,700 (7%) increase from the previous year, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Of that figure 1.16 million visited Australia (up 27,000), 158,300 visited Fiji (up 14,200), and 92,400 visited the Cook Islands (up 13,800).

Of the 2.54 million who travelled overseas 43 percent of those were holidaying, 37% visited friends and relatives and 12% went on business related trips.

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