Rebels sign Japan back Matsushima

Melbourne Rebels have signed Japanese international Kotaro Matsushima for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

The 22-year-old utility back, who represented Japan at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, will be the fourth Japanese player to represent the Rebels in as many years – following Shota Horie, Male Sau and Keita Inagaki.

Matsushima will join the Rebels on a short-term contract at the end of February from Suntory Sungoliath.

“I am very excited to have this great opportunity for the second straight year (in Super Rugby),” Matsushima said. “I know that this challenge with the Rebels will help me grow and improve my rugby skills.

“I will do my best to participate and contribute to the team."

Since scoring two tries on debut against the Philippines in 2014, Matsushima has earned a reputation as a versatile back at wing, centre and full-back with his pace and agility.

“We as Suntory Sungoliath are very thrilled to announce Kotaro Matsushima’s opportunity with Super Rugby Team: Melbourne Rebels,” Sungoliath said in a statement.

“We believe that his new challenge will lead to a big development and growth for not only Kotaro Matsushima but also for Sungoliath and Japan Rugby.”

The South African-born Japanese international started all four matches at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, including Japan’s upset victory over the Springboks.

Matsushima has earned 16 international appearances for Japan, scoring six tries, including one against USA at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

“Kotaro will add considerable quality, depth and versatility to our back line,” Rebels general manager Baden Stephenson said.

“Kotaro has consistently demonstrated the key characteristics that we are after in the Japanese Top League and at International level which will hold him in good stead to contribute to our program"

Matsushima became the first Japanese player to be signed to the Durban Sharks Academy in 2011 before making his Sharks XV debut three years later against Argentine side Pampas XV in the the 2013 Vodacom Cup.