New Zealand-born Japan national team loose forward Michael Leitch has been named in the Chiefs' wider training group for next year's Super Rugby season.
Leitch, a 1.90 metre, 103kg loose forward/lock who has lived in Japan since the age of 15, will join the Chiefs in the new year once his season with the Toshiba Wild Lupus club has finished.
He will be joined in the Chiefs' wider training group by last season's Chiefs winger Maritino Nemani, Waikato loose forward Matt Vant Leven and Bay of Plenty prop Mike Kainga.
A fifth spot in the group has been left vacant by the recruitment of Auckland and former Blues prop Pauliasi Manu into the main squad to replace Bay of Plenty and former Waikato prop Josh Hohneck, who badly damaged his leg in a farming accident and is out for the season.
New Zealand teams are only running five in their wider training groups next year with the expansion of the main squads to 32, which takes in three halfbacks and three hookers.
However, it is expected the Chiefs will invite players from time to time to train with them during the season.
New Chief Bundee Aki and new Blues Ronald Raaymakers and Baden Kerr were among those who took part in a similar scheme this year.
Wider training groups no longer appear restricted to players from within the franchises' boundaries, as highlighted by Leitch's recruitment to the Chiefs and the move of Taranaki's Kurt Baker to the Crusaders' wider training group and Wellington's Frae Wilson to the Highlanders.
WIDER TRAINING GROUPS
Blues: Pita Ahki, Joe Edwards, Albert Nikoro, Sean Polwart, Lolagi Visinia. Chiefs: Mike Kainga, Michael Leitch, Maritino Nemani, Matt Vant Leven. Hurricanes: Richard Buckman, Mike Coman, Ash Dixon, Callum Gibbins, Ope Peleseuma. Crusaders: Kurt Baker, Adrian Barone, Joel Everson, Paea Fa'anunu, Kieron Fonotia. Highlanders: Hugh Blake, Tony Ensor, Bronson Murray, Doug Tietjens, Frae Wilson.
- Waikato Times