Faifili Levave to quit Hurricanes for Japan side
Faifili Levave has done the rugby equivalent of trading in his old Honda for a sparkling new Toyota.
The Hurricanes loose forward will leave New Zealand rugby in August after signing a two-year deal to play for the Toyota Verblitz club in the Japan Top League.
It will be Levave's second stint in Japan after he spent six months in 2012 playing for the Honda Heat, then in the second division.
His pending departure adds to a growing list of Hurricanes players heading offshore at the end of the season.
The 28-year-old will join Andre Taylor and Tim Bateman in Japan, while fellow Samoan test team-mates Jack Lam (Bristol) and Alapati Leiua (London Wasps) will ply their trade in the United Kingdom.
Levave admitted to some sadness at having to leave New Zealand rugby after a career that started with Wellington in 2005, and included short stints with Waikato and the Chiefs, before hitting its straps with the Hurricanes from 2010.
"It's a bit sad, but first things first. I just want to keep playing well for the Canes," he said yesterday. "I guess once we get to the tailend of the season it will probably start sinking in.
"I've really enjoyed my time here with the boys and hopefully it's not the end of [our playoff hopes] this week."
After Super Rugby Levave's main focus is trying to make Samoa's World Cup squad next year, but he refused to completely close the door on returning to New Zealand rugby in the future.
"I think I'm playing some of my best footy, so I guess I'll just be playing it in a different country," he said.
"I still feel young. I'm not closing the door [on a return]. Footy in New Zealand has always been good to me, Super Rugby is a hard competition ... and if you want to be the best you have to play against the best."
At Toyota, where he will be coached by former All Black No 8 Filo Tiatia, Levave will effectively be a like-for-like replacement for All Black blindside Jerome Kaino, who has returned to Super Rugby this season with the Blues.
Levave, who along with Lam and Leiua has been a standout for the Hurricanes this season, believed the trio's international experience late last year had flowed through to their Super Rugby form.
"Game time, being injury free, confidence, combinations, there's a lot of factors in there. But mainly I'm just trying to make a statement week in week out."
The Dominion Post