Levave to miss ITM Cup for Japan stint
Hurricanes loose forwards Brad Shields and Faifili Levave will both miss Wellington's ITM Cup campaign.
Shields underwent knee surgery yesterday, and Levave will spend the off-season playing for Honda in Japan after activating an exit clause in his New Zealand Rugby Union contract.
It's unclear exactly how long Shields will be sidelined after damaging cartilage in his right knee during the Hurricanes' final match of the season against the Chiefs.
The 21-year-old had keyhole surgery and will be reviewed today, but medical staff do not expect him to take part in the Lions provincial campaign.
Levave, who along with openside flanker Jack Lam has re-signed with the Hurricanes for next season, will tread what is likely to become a more common path for senior players outside the All Blacks.
The 26-year-old will hop on a plane tomorrow, but has not been granted a sabbatical as was the case with Ma'a Nonu last year.
Levave's current Super Rugby contract expires at the end of the year, but, as he was not signed to a provincial union, has been able to activate an exit clause.
He goes with the blessing of the NZRU, has signed a new deal for 2012 and plans to be back for the Hurricanes' final preseason match next February.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew acknowledged Levave was unlikely to be the last player to skip the ITM Cup in favour of a stint in Japan.
"We are aware there is an increasing number of players, and I'm not saying this about him because it's not for me to decide, who have decided they are unlikely to be All Blacks right now," Tew said.
"We have increasing pressure from a group of players who are very senior Super Rugby players who we are very keen to see keep playing in New Zealand.
"Because they are not All Blacks they have a cap on what they can earn here."
The Japanese market, which fits neatly between Super Rugby seasons, was particularly "hot" at present, he said. "What we are going to have to do is find a balance between keeping some in the country rather than losing them altogether without having a completely detrimental impact on the ITM Cup."
He did not think the trend would ruin the provincial competition and could potentially open up spots for younger players.
But he said it was not a trend the NZRU would be encouraging outside of a certain group.
"We don't want 25 players playing test rugby and the next 50 in Japan, but realistically they can't all go up there anyway, so it's a relatively small number.
"I'd rather see that than lose them altogether, but it's a balancing act."
Levave, who has a young daughter, said he was thankful to the NZRU and Hurricanes for allowing him to do what was "right for myself and my family".
He would have stayed and played for Wellington had the exit clause been blocked in order to return to the Hurricanes.
And he was not concerned about fatigue despite knowing he would back up into Super Rugby without a prolonged break, saying the rest period was minimal either way.
Levave will join long time Hurricane Rodney So'oialo and former Highlander Hayden Triggs at Honda.
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The Dominion Post