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'I know if I leave I won't be able to get back into Japan'

Ex-Munster man Butler has endured frustrating time since moving to Far East

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Paddy Butler

Paddy Butler

SPORTSFILE

Paddy Butler

To say that Paddy Butler's time in Japan thus far has been stop-start would be a massive understatement.

A fractured eye socket, suffered in training shortly after joining Yamaha Jubilo, cost him six weeks on the sidelines, before he eventually made his debut in late February.

Just as it looked as though the former Munster back-row had reignited his exciting new adventure, Covid-19 curtailed it once more.

The Top League has been cancelled after just six games, while earlier this week Japan declared a state of emergency. Experts are questioning if the country left it too late to do so.

Just as the powers that be in Japan have done, the organisers of the league dragged their heels before reaching an inevitable conclusion which has left several foreign players, including Butler, caught in limbo.

Up until 10 days ago, the Tipperary native was training with Yamaha as there had been some talk that a Japanese Cup would be held in May, only for that idea to also be scrapped.

Four months into his Japanese sojourn, it hasn't exactly gone according to plan for Butler, who is only the second Irish player, after ex-Leinster man Harrison Brewer, to play in the Top League.

"The game in February was the first and last of the season for me," Butler tells the Herald.

"I'm just waiting to see what the restrictions in Japan will be, with travel and stuff. I am holding out at the moment because we are going to try and do a bit of training in May.

"I know if I leave now I won't be able to get back into the country at the moment. We'll see what happens over the next two or three weeks."

The locals pride themselves on their personal hygiene, but even still it seems fanciful that teams will be allowed train next month. Instead, the most likely scenario is that the new season will begin in January, which leaves Butler facing the brutal likelihood of having only played one game this year.

"Tokyo has been a bit different, because they put a ban on big public spaces being open, but down south everything was open until very recently," he explains.

"Everywhere you go, there is hand sanitiser and everyone wears masks. I think that has had a positive effect on controlling the virus over here."

Given the pain that the Brave Blossoms inflicted on Ireland last September most people in these parts would rather banish any mention of Shizuoka from their memory. Butler, however, now calls it home.

It has been quite the cultural change from Pau, where the 29-year-old spent four years before the French club ran into financial difficulties and had to offload several key players.

The news came as a shock to Butler and although he doesn't hold a grudge against the Top 14 outfit, he was suddenly forced to find a new club when the majority had already finalised their squads for this season.

Munster gave Butler, who played 64 times for the club, a break when they invited him to train with them. Although nothing came of it, as soon as his agent flagged Yamaha's interest Butler didn't think twice.

"I still have loads of friends in Munster, it was great to meet up and train with them," he says. "I wasn't expecting anything going in. I was just happy to be there. There was potentially something in the pipeline, but it didn't work out and then Yamaha got on to my agent.

"After leaving France, I was open to anything and with the World Cup just having just finished, there was huge momentum with Japanese rugby.

"You saw with the crowds, they are very passionate, so I figured it'd be a cool experience to have a crack off."

Butler signed a two-year contract, but he admits it has been tough being so far away from his family and friends, especially his fiancée Molly.

His new team-mates have helped smooth the transition and Butler was delighted to see one of them rock up to training wearing a Munster top without realising its significance.

Parts of Japan are still gripped by the buzz from the World Cup, according to Butler, who was surprised by the work ethic at Yamaha, who were sitting third in the Top League table.

"To be honest, I wasn't expecting the Japanese players to be as good as they are.

"The pace of play is rapid, which I enjoy - it suits my game.

"You saw how fast the Japanese backs were at the World Cup - their speed of passing, lines of running, ball-handling. It's the same here.

"They understand the importance of playing to their strengths, so the aim is to play at a speed that not many teams can live with. It definitely takes time to get used to, it's a hell of a lot faster than the Top 14.

"They are training fanatics here. We could go out on the pitch, have a killer session and then they are doing fitness and skills after it. A lot of them will have worked in the morning for the Yamaha company. It's incredible."

Butler was due to return to Ireland for two months at the end of the season, but he is now hoping to be able to do that sooner, once there is clarity from the club. The lure of playing at home will always exist, but he is determined to make a success of his move.

"I am open-minded at the moment, let's see where it goes," Butler adds.

"Obviously, I would prefer to get more than one game here, so hopefully that will happen next year.

"The league is still a bit alien to us back home, which is probably not ideal for me if I am looking to get back at some stage.

"But I have probably done a fair bit of work back in Europe, so people would have an idea of what I am capable of.

"Hopefully, it goes really well, though, and Yamaha look to sign me for another couple of years. That would be pretty cool too."