Barnes set for Japan at season's end
Heading to Japan ... Berrick Barnes. Photo: Getty Images
STAR Wallabies and Waratahs back Berrick Barnes is understood to have committed to playing in Japan as soon as this year's Super rugby season over and is on the verge of signing a contract with the Panasonic Wild Knights.
Fairfax Media has been told that Barnes will replace New Zealand playmaker Mike Delany at Panasonic, with the one-time All Black opting to further his career in France.
A move by Barnes, 26, to Panasonic that is based in Ota City in Gunma prefecture and plays in the Japanese Top League, would be a huge blow to the Waratahs, who play their first of three Super Rugby trials against the Rebels in Hobart on Saturday night.
The news will be a blow to new Waratahs coach Michael Cheika. Coming so close to the Super Rugby season, the news will ensure that the Waratahs' campaign now faces some unwanted off-field turmoil.
It is no secret that Barnes, who is off contract after this season, has been of interest to clubs in Japan and France.
Barnes is contracted with the Australian Rugby Union until the end of 2013 and will need to be granted an early release from his deal to move to Japan at the completion of the Super Rugby competition.
During the Wallabies' spring tour last year, Barnes said he would wait until after this year's Super season before making any decision about his future in the game. Although he said during the tour that he had had a lot of interest in his services.
Now, after much speculation since the tour ended in early December when Barnes earned his 50th Test cap in the final Test against Wales, sources have told Fairfax Media that Barnes is Japan bound as soon as this year's Super Rugby season is over.
One source said that Barnes, who is a crucial component to the Wallabies in attack and defence and no matter whether he plays at five-eighth or full-back, is on th cusp of a deal with Panasonic.
Barnes, a former rugby league player, is only the 37th Wallaby - out of 866 - to have worn the jersey 50 times, switched to rugby from the Brisbane Broncos NRL side in 2006 when he joined the Queensland Reds.
After playing 45 games for Queensland, he then joined the Waratahs in 2010 and has since taken his tally of Super Rugby caps to 82 with NSW.
Barnes made his Test debut in the 2007 World Cup in France against Japan when he came on from the bench for injured five-eighth Stephen Larkham.
While Barnes was the last player picked by the then Wallabies coach John Connolly for the World Cup, he ended up being the revelation of the otherwise disappointing Wallabies in that tournament as Australia were bundled out by England in their quarter-final at Marseilles.
Barnes, who was also picked by Wallabies coach Robbie Deans for the 2011 World Cup, has nevertheless had a career plagued with form slumps and injuries.
Most worrying of his injuries was his suffering with "footballer's migraine" in 2011 that at one point threatened his playing career at any level of the game and the groin injury that affected his European tour.
However, Barnes is still a major asset for any side – from his Shute Shield club, Sydney University, to the Waratahs and the Wallabies.
While Barnes has been training with the Waratahs since January 7, he has not been named in NSW's 28-strong squad to play the Melbourne Rebels at North Hobart Football Club on Saturday.
Barnes and the Wallabies who toured Europe with him in spring, are due to resume playing for the Waratahs final of three trial games against the Canterbury Crusaders at Allianz Stadium at Moore Park in Sydney on Thursday, February 14
The Waratahs, who will be captained in the game by halfback Brendan McKibbin, have included six new recruits in their line-up with the star NSW newcomer to join Ollie Atkins, Cam Crawford, Luke Holmes, Matt Lucas and Ben Volavola being former NRL and AFL player Israel Folau.
The Waratahs line-up also includes 10 players who are not on contract but regarded as worth keeping an eye on in the future.
Correction: An original version of this story said that Berrick Barnes had signed with Panasonic. Fairfax Media understands he has not signed but is on the verge of doing so.