Southland Stags pushed outside 'comfort zone' in unique visit to Japan
Rugby Southland general manager Andrew Moreton says last week's venture to Japan provided the Stags with an ideal preseason boost and he is hopeful the relationship can continue in the future.
A touring group of 29 players and 11 Southland and Highlanders management spent the week in Japan last week.
They were involved in various activities and finished with a game against top Japanese club the Panasonic Wild Knights on Friday, which the Wild Knights won 22-7.
The opportunity came about through a relationship with the Highlanders and Panasonic, with the Stags team playing against the Wild Knights under the Highlanders Bravehearts banner.
The trip didn't come at a cost to Rugby Southland.
Highlanders players Malakai Fekitoa and Greg Pleasants-Tate also made the trip in ambassador roles.
While Fekitoa ran the water during the game against Panasonic, Pleasants-Tate did pull the boots on and line up alongside the Stags players in the unique fixture.
The game was played in front of 12,000 people in Kumagaya and proved to be a tough hit out for the Stags as they count down to the start of the Mitre 10 Cup season this week.
Moreton said it provided the Stags squad with a big week together training and going over the season plans in quality facilities in Japan.
The mantra for the Stags campaign this season is based on 'pride, respect, and performance' and that was drummed into the group throughout their seven days in Japan.
Highlanders assistant coaches Mark Hammett and Jon Preston were also part of the touring group and were able to observe and pass on some advice throughout the week - not just to the players but the Stags coaches as well.
Moreton felt the cultural experience would benefit the players as well.
"It put them outside their comfort zone," he said.
While much of the week for the Stags was based around preparing for the Mitre 10 Cup season, they were also involved in various promotional activities, which included a visit to the Kumagaya Girls' High school.
Kumagaya is a sister city for Invercargill.
On Tuesday night a civic reception was laid on for the touring party which Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt also attended.
At the civic reception the team performed a haka and sung a waiata.
"I not sure when the last time would have been where the Southland rugby team performed a haka," Moreton said.
Moreton said he personally made a lot of contacts during the trip.
He hoped the connection could continue in the future with the possibility of the Panasonic team travelling to Invercargill to play the Stags.
The good news from the week is the Stags emerged without any serious injuries.
Southland will play Hawke's Bay in their first Mitre 10 Cup game on Saturday in Napier.
The trip to Japan capped off what has been a much more intense preseason build up than last season.
The Stags have been able to squeeze in games against the Otago Sassenachs, Mid Canterbury, Otago, and also Friday's outing against the Wild Knights.