All Blacks captain Sam Cane will join Japanese club Suntory for the 2024 season, New Zealand Rugby said on Friday.
However, the team’s governing body believes he will still be available to play international matches. “Cane has taken a contractual sabbatical with the New Zealand team but will return to play for the All Blacks in June,” the governing body said.
The 31-year-old openside flanker received a red card in New Zealand’s 12-11 defeat against South Africa last weekend during the Rugby World Cup final. He is the first player who has ever been sent off during a World Cup rugby final.
“After the World Cup, it just felt like the right time to try something new and play for Suntory in 2024,” Cane said in a statement.
The Japanese season kicks off in December and lasts until May. Cane will therefore miss the game against the Waikato Chiefs in the 2024 Super Rugby campaign (which starts 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 happy that I can return in time to put my best foot forward for the All Blacks.”
New Zealand will play host to England in a test series next year before they begin their defense of the Rugby Championship title under new head coach Scott Robertson.
Mark Robinson, CEO of New Zealand Rugby, says there are very few players who have given as much as Cane.
“It is a sign of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Suntory finished third in the Japan Rugby League One last season when they lost to the eventual champions, the Kubota Spears, in the semi-finals of the four-team play-offs.
Cane’s All Black teammates Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie have both played for the Tokyo-based club in recent years.