Whoever said that sport and politics don't mix? Certainly it was coined long before the rugby-mad Jim Bolger and John Key were Prime Ministers.

You can now add Bill English to that mix. The big announcement on his day-long race around Tokyo was that the All Blacks are going to play the Japanese in November next year as a precursor to the Rugby World Cup there the following year.

On more than one occasion through the day English told audiences that he had nephews living in Osaka who are keen on kicking around the rugby ball, not surprising considering the size of the English brood who'd probably have enough players to field several teams.

Rugby Union boss Steve Tew, sounding as polished as any politician, was in town to jolly along the announcement. Of course, it's not an altruistic gesture by the ABs to display their skills to a Japanese crowd, they'll take away a bag full of loot from the gate takings from one of the big Cup venues, probably in Tokyo.


At the conclusion of the announcement Tew posed for a handshake with his Japanese opposite number and Japan's coach Jamie Joseph, perhaps to show Key that it is indeed possible without an awkward hand fumble. Not willing to take a chance perhaps, English had already scarpered.

Earlier in the day he met with a woman who's being widely touted as a future Prime Minister, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who runs a city with many times the population of New Zealand. Being the charming man he is, English came bearing gifts, a broken cell phone that he'd brought from Parliament to deposit in recycling bin wheeled in especially for the occasion.

Koike seemed impressed, she plans to melt it down, extract the gold, yes, there is gold in cell phones, to make gold medals for the Olympic Games that her city's hosting in three years time.

For English the rugby announcement must have been a bit of light relief from the fact that the unpredictable North Korea's within easy striking distance of this country.

English's Tokyo tryst was finished off with a swanky dinner with his host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who made all the right noises about continuing with the Trans Pacific Partnership now that Trump's called it quits.

We didn't get to know what he really thought though, because a press conference Japanese-style is a statement without pesky questions from a room packed full of reporters.

Bill English could only look on in envy.

Barry Soper is in Tokyo, courtesy of our national carrier, Air New Zealand.