All Blacks captain Sam Cane to join Japan's Suntory

rugby03 November 2023 03:39| © AFP
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: Sam Cane © Gallo Images

All Blacks captain Sam Cane will join Japanese club Suntory for the 2024 season, New Zealand Rugby said Friday, but will still be available to play internationals next year.

Cane has taken a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby contract but will return home in June to play for the All Blacks, the governing body said.

The 31-year-old openside flanker became the first player ever sent off in a Rugby World Cup final last weekend when he was shown a red card in New Zealand's 12-11 defeat to South Africa in Paris.

"When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time, following the Rugby World Cup, to try something new," Cane said in a statement.

The Japanese season kicks off in December and runs until May, meaning Cane will miss playing for the Chiefs in the 2024 Super Rugby campaign, which begins in February.

"It wasn't an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs but I know the team is in a great place," he said.

"I'm really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks."

New Zealand are set to host England in a test series next year before beginning their defence of The Rugby Championship title under new head coach Scott Robertson.

Mark Robinson, chief executive of New Zealand Rugby, said: "There are very few players who have given as much as he has and it's a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the test season."

Suntory finished third in last season's Japan Rugby League One table, but lost to eventual champions Kubota Spears in the semifinals of the four-team playoffs.

Cane's All Black teammates Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie both had spells with the Tokyo-based club in recent years.