Thu, 06 Aug 2020

Rugby World Cup-winners Ben Smith, Aaron Cruden and Franco Mostert are all headed to Japan, their new clubs announced on Friday, as the Top League continued to snap up stars despite the coronavirus.

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Former All Blacks Smith and Cruden will play for Kobe Steelers while Mostert, who lifted the World Cup last year with South Africa, is on his way to Honda Heat.

Japan's well-heeled Top League, where teams are backed by major corporations, has been cancelled for 2020 because of the pandemic, with the new arrivals set to debut next year.

Fullback Smith, 34, who has 84 caps, was signed from France's Pau, while flyhalf Cruden, 31, joins from the Chiefs. Both have won the World Cup with New Zealand.

"I am incredibly competitive and still feel like I have lots to offer," Smith said in a statement.

"I am hopeful that I can help the Steelers add to their impressive trophy cabinet," he added.

For second-row Mostert, who'll be joined at the Heat by fellow South African and Stormers flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis, the move is a return to Japan after he played there between 2016 and 2018.

Japanese sides have attracted an array of international players in recent years, with New Zealand flyhalf Beauden Barrett signing a one-year deal with Suntory Sungoliath that means he will miss Super Rugby in 2021.

South Africa's Malcolm Marx, England's George Kruis and Wales' Hadleigh Parkes have also announced moves to Japan's top flight in recent months.

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