After some memorable battles against each other, including this year's Rugby World Cup final, All Blacks captain Sam Cane is excited to call Springboks speedster Cheslin Kolbe his teammate at Tokyo Sungoliath.
The big-name imports made their Japan Rugby League One debuts Sunday in Sungoliath's 52-26 opening-round win over defending champions Kubota Spears at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
The Japanese club season kicked off a month and a half after the two were on opposite sides of South Africa's 12-11 victory against New Zealand at the Stade de France, where Cane made an early exit due to a contentious red card and Kolbe spent the final minutes in the sin bin.
Cane was upbeat following his first League One game, praising the quality of his team's preparation and the "open style of rugby" on display.
"I've been really impressed with our training," said Cane, who started at No. 8 for Sungoliath.
"Obviously, the boys have put in a lot of work prior to Cheslin and myself arriving. I thought those boys who've been here before, with their experience, led the way and us boys who made our debut just did our jobs."
The 31-year-old Cane and 30-year-old Kolbe are the latest in a long line of high-profile internationals who have worn the Sungoliath jersey, including former Wallabies captain George Gregan and current All Black Beauden Barrett, who has returned to Japan to play for Toyota Verblitz this season.
Cane made his presence felt as part of a dominant Sungoliath pack, while Kolbe comfortably slotted in at No. 15 in a backline boasting several Japan internationals.
"I think everyone who watched could see the impact Cheslin Kolbe had on the game," Cane said. "It's going to be exciting and enjoyable to play with him this year after playing against him for so many years."
Kolbe, who was also part of the Springboks side that won the 2019 World Cup in Japan, said the transition to his new home had been smooth so far.
"I'll be quite honest, it hasn't been difficult," he said. "The reason for that is the team, the players, the management, everyone has been welcoming and made us feel at home, and just advising us on how to do things week to week."
League One's post-World Cup influx of foreign stars also includes All Blacks Shannon Frizell and Richie Mo'unga, who have joined Sungoliath's traditional rivals Brave Lupus Tokyo. The two clubs face each other next round in a game Kolbe expects to be "another big challenge."
"Obviously there's no easy games," he said. "I think for us, the most important thing was to gain confidence from today. We won't try to get ahead of ourselves, just focus on now and take it day by day."