Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Meet Richie McCaw's new understudy

Sam Cane. Photo / APN
Sam Cane. Photo / APN

All Black captain Richie McCaw was 20 years and 321 days when he made his test debut.

He's only made way when he has been injured but at 31 and after 103 tests, it's time to nail down his successor.

Or at least an understudy the selectors believe has the potential to emulate McCaw's extraordinary gifts.

That man is Sam Cane, the Bay of Plenty flanker who won gold with the New Zealand under 20s last season when he was the country's age group player of the year.

He is one of three loose forwards from that side - with Brad Shields and Luke Whitelock - who have been picked in the expanded All Black squad of 35 which will be trimmed by five after several training camps.

If he stays fit, mark down the 1.89m, 104kg Cane to be in that trimmed group who will prepare for the three June tests against Ireland.

It will be an opportune time for him to learn from the master, to soak up the environment and if he gets on the track somewhere, a chance to debut at a younger age than McCaw.

Cane has beaten out his BoP and Chiefs teammate Tanerau Latimer and Matt Todd for a place in the squad and the selectors think they have nailed a nugget.

"I think he could be something special," Hansen said.

"He is big, robust, great over the ball and plays an intelligent game.

"He is a fetcher, he can get over the ball, he can carry and he defends well."

The panel liked Cane's range of qualities but acknowledged he still had much to learn about the national game.

Meanwhile, McCaw was fully fit after his foot surgery.

He had taken his time about his recovery and was ready once more.

"But we do need an understudy," Hansen said.

He noted how promising young Australian flankers Liam Gill and Michael Hooper looked as backup to the Wallabies' chief opensider David Pocock.

The new All Black coach had enjoyed the selection debates with Ian Foster and Grant Fox before they settled on their opening squad.

They had set out criteria they wanted from players in each position and had a variety of robust discussions.

"We were happy to voice our opinions and disagree if we we needed to. It was all very stimulating."

- NZ Herald

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