Tom Donnelly expects others will try overseas
Tom Donnelly would not be surprised if more Super Rugby players are tempted to replicate his seven-month stint in Japan.
The lock, 30, selected to start tomorrow night's match against the Western Force at Christchurch's AMI Stadium, will join the Mitsubishi club when the Crusaders season ends, and hopes to return for next year's campaign.
Although a contract has yet to be signed, Donnelly has not given up on an international recall under Steve Hansen. He has discussed his decision with the All Blacks boss to head overseas, instead of playing in the ITM Cup.
"I first spoke to the All Blacks a while ago and they were really positive about it. I didn't really have any plans after that wee stint and they were really positive about me coming back and still being in the frame if I played well enough."
Donnelly played the last of his 15 tests in late 2010.
Unwanted by Jamie Joseph after eight seasons with the Highlanders, he was expected to return to Dunedin to represent Otago during the ITM Cup. Now, Donnelly hopes to win his first Super title before getting married and joining former Welsh international wing Shane Williams at Mitsubishi.
It is a bit of a radical move; although players often head overseas, they rarely boomerang back so soon.
An elongated Super season, where players begin pre-season training around November and can still be playing in early August, may force other veterans to also consider short stints overseas.
"I think it definitely is with the way the Super 15 is going," Donnelly said. "It is a bit tough, because playing in the ITM Cup is an awesome part of your time in New Zealand rugby.
"I think this might be for some older players that are looking for a bit of a new adventure and doing something a bit different but it is still keeping them in top-level rugby in New Zealand."
All Blacks second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu, who recently earned the wrath of Japan's national coach, Eddie Jones, who believed he did not give enough value for money at the Ricoh Black Rams club, played in Asia over the summer before linking with the Blues.
Donnelly should add more value to Mitsubishi – especially if he is motivated to try and reclaim an All Blacks jersey upon his return. His decision to play in Japan, he says, was not a reflection of the Otago union's financial problems.
"No, that had nothing to do with it. I actually love playing for Otago and love living down there. This was just a way of looking after myself for the future than for anything else."
Donnelly sat out the latter part of training yesterday, as he iced the calf injury he incurred while playing in last month's North versus South match.
Donnelly was also punched by Blues lock Filo Paulo who earned a five-week suspension for the act. What sparked Paulo's madness still mystifies Donnelly.
"I can't remember mate, he got me good. There were a stars floating around but, nah, it was alright. It is just a part of footy isn't it?"