All Black and Springbok stars sidelined for injury-stricken Japanese club

Jared Wright
Sungoliath's Cheslin Kolbe during the Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 match between Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and TOSHIBA Brave Lupus Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, Japan on December 17, 2023.

Sungoliath's Cheslin Kolbe during the Japan Rugby League One 2023-24 match between Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath and TOSHIBA Brave Lupus Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo, Japan on December 17, 2023.

Suntory Sungoliath have been dealt a hammer double blow with All Blacks flanker Sam Cane and Springboks star Cheslin Kolbe both set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Suntory currently sit third overall on the Japanese Rugby League One Division 1 standings after six wins from their opening eight games, but will likely be without two of their star men in the run into the latter stages of the tournament.

Double injury blow

Japan-based rugby journalist Rich Freeman reports that Kolbe is set for a four-six week spell on the sidelines after sustaining a hand injury, while Cane has injured his back and could be out for 10 weeks.

Both players missed Suntory’s 62-0 thrashing of the Black Rams this past weekend and will now be absent a good chunk of the remainder of the regular season.

Kolbe could miss between four and six matches for the side, depending on his recovery time, which would leave him between two and four games before the play-offs.

Meanwhile, a 10-week lay-off for Cane would put his potential return date during the tournament’s knockout stages if there are no setbacks.

It’s another blow for Suntory, who signed Cane to cover for former Wallabies back-rower Sean McMahon. The side also signed Wales playmaker Gareth Anscombe, whose Rugby World Cup injury meant that he never represented the club before he was released from his contract.

Rich Freeman's post on X, which reads: Sungoliath having some bad luck with their imports. Gareth Anscombe forced to leave club before playing a game and I am now hearing on the grapevine that Sam Cane could be out for 10 weeks (back) and Cheslin Kolbe for 4-6 weeks (hand).

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Suntory ultimately signed Los Pumas playmaker Nicolas Sanchez to replace Anscombe but are unlikely to bring in injury cover replacements from abroad for Kolbe and Cane.

Kolbe’s injury will be of concern for the Springboks as he would likely be eligible for the one-off Test match against Wales at Twickenham in June, but he should recover in time for the fixture.

Meanwhile, Scott Robertson will be able to select Cane for the June internationals against England, if fit, as the 2023 All Blacks skipper activated a sabbatical clause in his contract to ply his trade in Japan for a season before returning to the Chiefs in 2025.

Key matches for Suntory

The pair are set to miss crucial match-ups against the Yokohama Canon Eagles, Toyota Verblitz and Kobelco Kobe Steelers but will face the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners, who are currently second from bottom on the standings, in the encounter after that.

The aforementioned trio of clubs are ranked fifth, seventh and fourth on the overall table and are within striking distance of Suntory on 29 league points.

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