Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Cane makes big strides

Sam Cane of the All Blacks dives over to score during the International Test Match between New Zealand and Ireland. Photo / Getty Images.
Sam Cane of the All Blacks dives over to score during the International Test Match between New Zealand and Ireland. Photo / Getty Images.

This time Sam Cane had all week to think about his first start in the All Black jersey.

He would wear the famous jersey with Richie McCaw's number on the back, the famed no 7 worn by flankers of great distinction.

He would run out at a stadium or at least close to the ground where famous local open siders like Duane Monkley and Marty Holah created their careers.

Cane was ninth to run out of the tunnel onto a park where his work with the Chiefs endeared him to the All Black selectors.

During the anthems he linked arms between Sam Whitelock and Conrad Smith and gazed into a crowd where his relations and 25,100 wondered how he would front.

The early signs were good.

Cane nobbled Brian O'Driscoll with his first tackle which forced a turnover because of some strong assistance from Sonny Bill Williams.

Cane's first carry was even better when he latched on to a pass from Aaron Cruden. The flanker belted his way past several tacklers although he undid his effort when the ball was dislodged from his grasp.

It was just a taste though, just a tease of the impact Cane would make.

He showed patience and game sense to hold his position out wide as the All Blacks worked through the middle of the park before passes from Williams then Cruden released him for his first test try.

All Cane's instincts would have screamed to hunt the ball or get in tight to support. But with the All Blacks his job sheet is far more specific, much more tailored to the talent throughout the team.

When those skills were needed he delivered.

He smacked Peter O'Mahony back from a scrum and clipped into his work in the breakdown zone.

After Ireland began a counter-attack from deep, Cane tracked across field and swamped Paddy Wallace when he got an inside pass.

He bounced to his feet and claimed the turnover in a classic example of the arts of open side play.

His work must provoke thoughts of a Cane, McCaw and Kieran Read loose forward group when the All Blacks play the Wallabies at the start of the Rugby Championship.

Cane's loose forward growth would benefit even more working in tandem with McCaw whose energy, power and rugby wisdom would soak up the blindside duties.

Victor Vito's recovery from his knee injury will be a central issue in those decisions.
If he is back to full health and form then he will make the mix.

But Cane's first few appearances in black suggest there will be more. How many, who knows? It is a tough role, a brutal position where damage is expected.

In truth he still has his international L-plates but the young flanker has pace, size and gets in the right places with significant impact.

Reporoa's rugby jewel is making big strides towards the global stage.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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