George Whitelock joins player exodus to Japan

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2014
George Whitelock
Getty Images
STALWART: George Whitelock has been a rock for the Crusaders throughout his Super Rugby career.

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George Whitelock has signed for Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights.

The blindside flanker is expected to announce he will join the wealthy Japanese club that recently appointed former Crusaders and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans as its coach.

The club also has Highlanders halfback Fumiaki Tanaka and ex-Wallabies five-eighth Berrick Barnes on its books.

Whitelock, who is married to Black Sticks hockey star Kayla (nee Sharland), has not started a Super Rugby match since April 19 because Jordan Taufua has been preferred for the No 6 jersey.

Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn (Toulouse) and first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal (Munster) will join overseas clubs later this year.

Flynn leaves after the Super Rugby campaign, while Bleyendaal will depart after playing for Canterbury.

Zac Guildford has recently been released off his Crusaders and New Zealand Rugby Union contracts and will soon join French club Clermont.

Other players set to leave New Zealand are Andre Taylor, Mils Muliaina, Jackson Willison, Bundee Aki, Alipati Leuia, Chris Noakes, Jack Lam, Jarrad Hoeata and Tom McCartney.

More players are expected to grab offshore contracts as their agents look to stitch up deals before the rush begins for players coming off next year's World Cup.

Whitelock, who made one test appearance as a substitute against Italy in 2009, has been a loyal servant of the Crusaders since Deans selected him in 2008.

Last year he started all 18 matches for the Crusaders and later made 11 appearances for Canterbury as he captained them to their sixth consecutive National Provincial Championship title.

But Whitelock, 28, appears to have been squeezed out of the Crusaders' future plans because of their desire to retain a combination of All Blacks stars and promising operators like Taufua for next year and beyond.

The return of Kieran Read from concussion pushed Whitelock off the bench for last Friday night's match against the Western Force. Younger brother Luke was preferred as loose forward cover while Richie McCaw and Taufua started as flankers.

The Crusaders are also understood to have re-signed Matt Todd. Openside flanker Todd was in such good form before tearing a calf muscle early last month that Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had him in his starting side by shifting Richie McCaw to No 6.

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