Paddy Butler delighted to join southern stars as he signs for Japanese club

The former Munster forward, now 29, will be the first Irish player to play in the league, if not the country itself, joining a who's who of southern hemisphere stars.

Paddy Butler delighted to join southern stars as he signs for Japanese club

Paddy Butler is breaking new ground for Irish rugby as he joins the wave of players flocking to the Japanese Top League.

The former Munster forward, now 29, will be the first Irish player to play in the league, if not the country itself, joining a who's who of southern-hemisphere stars.

There are All Blacks (Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, and Sam Whitelock), South African World Cup-winners (Willie le Roux, Duane Vermeulen, and Munster-bound duo Damian de Allende and RG Snyman), and Australian stars (David Pocock, Bernard Foley, and Matt Giteau). Add to that number a Tipperary back-row, as Butler sealed a two-year deal with Yamaha Jubilo.

"I'm delighted to have it done," said Butler. "It's quite a privilege to say you're the first to go and do it. It's incredibly exciting.

It's a league that, as you could see through the signings they made after the World Cup, is incredibly competitive. There's some serious talent over here so I'm looking forward to getting out on the pitch and playing in it.

The season started last weekend with Yamaha Jubilo beating a Toyota Verblitz side featuring Read and Le Roux, while their game this weekend against Carter's reigning champions Kobe Steelers will come too soon for Butler. (Incidentally, former Leinster player Mark Egan played for the Steelers in the 90s prior to the establishment of the Top League.)

Instead, Butler's expecting to make his home debut at the 51,000-capacity Shizuoka Stadium, the scene of Ireland's World Cup loss to Japan.

"Apparently the numbers at the first round of games this season are through the roof.

"Most stadiums have been sell-outs. I know we'd a sell-out here [at the 15,000-capacity Yamaha Stadium] last weekend. The World Cup has obviously done it wonders. That's what's exciting about it.

"It's already a pretty good league but we wouldn't hear too much about it because there'd be no-one you'd know from home or you wouldn't really see it on telly to know who was here. But all the top lads through the years have played in Japan.

"Hopefully now with me playing out here, there might be a bit more interest from back home. From what I've seen, it's fast rugby and the scoring's always really high."

Butler has been recruited as a number 8 to pack down alongside South African World Cup-winner Kwagga Smith. The club first got in contact last October, when he was invited to a training camp in France. "They offered me a contract two days later, so it was pretty fast." Then there was the wait for a visa to come through.

In between, Butler got engaged to his long-time sweetheart, Molly, who he says did the heavy lifting in choosing a house in Shizuoka this week.

Butler had been training with Munster in pre-season and although a contract didn't materialise, he was delighted with the experience.

"They asked me to come in and train and they didn't know what it'd look like going forward.

"They'd just made the signing of Jed Holloway so I was just happy to come in and see what the whole set-up was like again.

"It was obviously very high standards so I was just happy to get a chance to go back in and train with the lads."

He'll take all he's learned from his previous clubs with him to Japan, including the lessons from playing abroad for four years with Pau.

"I'd an incredible time in France. I absolutely loved my experience there. I got to play with some incredible players, the Conrad Smiths of this world, and got to play in the Top 14, which to me is the best league in the world, hands down.

"I played something like 92 games for them in the four seasons so I played a lot. I loved the French people, loved the culture, and I'd a great time.

"I think if you move to a foreign country, you have to embrace the culture. I tried to do that with learning French and I'll do the exact same with Japanese. I'll give it socks.

"It's a small bit different, a different alphabet," he chuckles, "but it's not too bad. We'll give it a go and see what happens because down the line, who knows? Ireland and Japan have some great ties in the business world so it could stand to me in the future as well.

"I'll try my best to make the most of it and really enjoy it. I think it's going to be a really good experience and it's for two seasons as well, which is a big thing. It gives me time to settle in and have a bit of comfort and build up relationships with the lads."

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