Courageous Kanako Kobayashi is relishing her long-awaited return to the international fold after finally banishing her domestic injury demons, writes Joe Harvey.

Spending the 2021/22 season with Exeter Chiefs Women in Premiership Women's Rugby, the Japanese star enjoyed a successful spell on England's south-coast as the club made their debut in English rugby's top flight.

The dynamic centre found it comfortable being away from home, having experienced dormitory life after moving to Shimane Prefecture to focus on her rugby.

Helping the club lift the Allianz Cup, the 24-year-old was integral in helping the side to reach the PWR final, although her season would not have a fairytale ending.

Tearing her ACL as Susie Appleby's side succumbed to defeat against Saracens at Sixways Stadium, what followed was 12 months of rehabilitation.

Missing out on Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand and a second season in Europe, it was confirmed by Exeter in July that she would be returning to Sandy Park with Kobayashi – who has been in Cape Town playing for Japan in the new WXV 2 competition – hoping to rekindle some of the magic created in her debut season.

"It was like being in heaven when I was playing in Exeter," she said.

“Because I was playing rugby, watching rugby and then playing rugby. It was a really happy time for me.

"I am looking forward to living in that environment again. In my last season, the team ended up in second place (in Premiership Women's Rugby), so this time I would very much like to contribute to the win, the first prize for Chiefs."

Currently in South Africa, Lesley McKenzie's side have had mixed fortunes on the pitch.

Beginning their campaign with a defeat at the hands of Italy, last weekend the side bounced back with a 32-10 victory over Samoa at Athelone Stadium.

A Scotland second half scoring spree saw Japan defeated 38-7 in Round 3, but 24-year-old Kobayashi has her sights set much further down the line too.

Having experienced such devastation at missing out on last year's delayed World Cup, the prospect of representing her country two years down the line is enticing.

"I was not able to join the World Cup because of my injury," Kobayashi said. "I am taking this opportunity as my personal preparation for the next World Cup.

"I am feeling this experience is helping me, because I can now compete at a high level and the matches are in a series, so it is tough mentally and physically."