Getty Images

New Zealand captain Sam Cane will bid farewell to international rugby at the end of 2024, having inked a three-year contract with Japanese team Suntory Sungoliath.

Following his stint with the club during the summer Japanese season, Cane will come back and regain eligibility to represent the All Blacks for the remainder of the year. At 32 years old, he will subsequently head back to Japan after New Zealand Rugby and external parties have mutually agreed to release him from the final year of his contract, which was originally set to conclude at the end of 2025.

“A good opportunity came my way with Suntory Sungoliath willing to offer me a three-year contract,” said Cane. “I had to weigh up everything and, in the end, with a young family it seemed like the best decision to help set up our future."

The flanker, who earned his All Blacks debut in 2012, boasts a tally of 95 Tests, including 27 appearances as captain, and contributed to his nation's triumph in the 2015 World Cup. Nevertheless, he made history at the 2023 tournament as the first male player to receive a red card in a World Cup final, occurring during New Zealand's loss to South Africa.

Since that time, the All Blacks have not competed in a match, and Cane will not assume the captaincy when they return to the field for their next fixture.

New Zealand captain Cane will retire from international duty at the end of 2024. GETTY IMAGES
New Zealand captain Cane will retire from international duty at the end of 2024. GETTY IMAGES

“It’s part of the natural process that happens in rugby," said Cane. "I had my time as captain and it was a huge honour and privilege. If I’m fortunate enough to be selected in the All Blacks this year then I’ll still be myself."

With rising talents like Ardie Savea and Dalton Papalii vying for positions, there were demands for his exclusion from the team. Throughout his tenure, New Zealand experienced their first Test series loss at home to Ireland in 2022 and, just weeks later, encountered a surprising defeat to Argentina in Christchurch.

Cane, who took over as All Blacks captain from Kieran Read in 2020, initially joined Suntory Sungoliath last year by exercising a sabbatical clause within his contract with the Waikato Chiefs. All Blacks coach Scott Robertson said, "After discussing this at length with Sam, I fully understand the reasons behind his decision and support him.

"The position he plays asks a lot of you mentally and physically, both of those things ramp up when you are captain. So to do what he's done over such a long period is an incredible feat. I fully respect him taking this opportunity."