Two of the stars of the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand are set to play their rugby in Japan next season.
When the Lions travelled Down Under six years ago they met a superb All Black side in full flow and were powerless to stop the World’s number one ranked team securing a 3-0 series victory.
Now, two of the stalwarts of that Kiwi side are leaving New Zealand for a new challenge overseas.
Rodney So'oialo and Mils Muliaina have signed for Honda Heat and NTT Docomo respectively, with So’oialo set to join at the end of the Super 15 season and Muliaina heading to Japan after this autumn’s World Cup.
So’oialo played the full 80 minutes in all three Tests against Sir Clive Woodward’s Lions and went on to win 62 caps, including seven as captain, while Muliaina is the All Blacks’ joint highest capped player and also featured in the three victories over Britain and Ireland’s elite.
All Blacks and former Lions coach Graham Henry was full of praise for the contribution made by both men, insisting the pair head abroad with their country’s blessing.
"Mils goes to Japan next year with the best wishes of everyone involved in the All Blacks," said Henry.
"He is a special All Black, along with Richie McCaw our most capped Test player, an outstanding footballer who is the best in the world in his position.
"Mils is a natural leader, he has tremendous respect of his peers and has helped considerably in the development of younger players.
"Rodney was a special All Black and an exceptional man in the team.
"His total commitment and passion for the All Blacks jersey has been inspirational and a marvellous example to others.
"He has also been a key member of the leadership group, commanded enormous respect from his fellow players and was the obvious choice as stand-in captain when Richie McCaw was injured.
"Everyone in the All Blacks has the utmost respect for Rodders and we wish him and Marilyn and the family all the very best for their adventure to Japan and in their future endeavours."