Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Cane to target the breakdowns

All Blacks concentrate on gain line to clear more front-foot possession against the French in Christchurch.

Sam Cane will run out on what is normally enemy territory on Saturday armed with the knowledge that he can make a huge difference to the All Blacks' performance in their main area of concern - the breakdown.

In the first test against France at Eden Park, the All Blacks were second best in the 23-13 victory. They scored two excellent tries thanks to two pieces of magic from Ben Smith and Ma'a Nonu, but apart from those interventions line breaks of any significance were extremely hard to come by.

That was due not only to a well-connected France defence, but also the fact that the All Blacks turned the ball over far too often.

When they did retain the ball in contact, the French competed so well at the breakdown the result was static possession rather than the front-foot type the All Blacks thrive on.

Cane wore what for the past decade or so has been Richie McCaw's No7 jersey on Saturday and is likely to again at AMI Stadium in front of what will mainly be Canterbury and Crusaders supporters.

Another local favourite, Matt Todd, has been called into the squad as injury cover and there was excitement in some quarters he would play for his Christchurch club last Saturday. Instead, he was at Eden Park taking a full part in the warm-up. That is the role he will likely be confined to this Saturday too.

Chiefs player Cane, who scored a well-taken try from Nonu's break, is likely to get a reminder or two from the crowd if improvements aren't made in the breakdown area. As a loose forward, that should be one of his main areas of expertise.

"It was tough out there," he admitted of the Eden Park clash. "A good way to sum it up is that they're tough to move, they're big boys. They get their whole body in there ... it was a big battle.

"They did a good job there and it's something we'll have to be better at.

"We've had a review this morning and it's one of the areas we've looked at. I think it comes back to our ball carriers doing better jobs. If we get over the gain line it makes the clean-out process easier."

Cane said all of the fired-up French competed well at the breakdown, from their locks to their loose forwards, in particular skipper Thierry Dusautoir.

"The pleasing thing is when we did hold the ball for periods of time, which didn't happen a heck of a lot, we made good metres and were threatening."

Assistant coach Ian Foster backed Aaron Cruden to bounce back from a low-key performance at Eden Park. Likewise Israel Dagg, the Crusaders fullback who is undergoing something of a crisis of confidence.

Rene Ranger is lurking, as dangerous as ever (just ask France fullback Yoann Huget), but is likely to have a bench role again on Saturday.

The feeling is that familiarity will help the All Blacks bed in their slightly different game plan, although prop Tony Woodcock and halfback Piri Weepu are likely to play a role after returning from injury.

- APNZ

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