Steve Hansen insists Sam Cane is not a rival for Richie McCaw but rather the man who can extend his captain's career.
After years of angst about McCaw's successor for the All Blacks' No7 jersey, Cane gave a glimpse of what the future looks like in Hamilton last night.
As Cane said afterwards, the forwards set the platform for the 60-0 victory over Ireland at Waikato Stadium, which made his job easier. Even so, he has enjoyed a spectacular start to his test career.
He shone in difficult, high-pressure, conditions in Christchurch last week after coming on at halftime and last night was outstanding in his first test start. His work at the breakdown was world class and the bonus of two tries ensured it was an occasion he won't forget.
"He was outstanding tonight," coach Steve Hansen said after being asked whether Cane was now a threat to Richie McCaw's position on the side of the scrum. "What he's done is give me an easier night's sleep because now I know how I can look after my mate beside me here [McCaw]. He's the best No7 in the world and now we've got someone else to ensure he'll be around for a lot longer."
Cane is still only 20 but has the strength and steely attitude of a more mature player. He is set for a long test career as long as he stays healthy in the physically demanding position.
His relatively low centre of gravity - unusual for a player 1.89m tall - and speed allows him to get to the breakdown and stay in the fight for longer than others in his position. It was his work there and on defence - he topped the All Blacks' tackle count with 16 - which made life a misery for the Irish after they competed so well in both phases in Christchurch.
"It comes back to the basics," Cane said. "The tight five dominated the set piece. From there, Sonny [Bill Williams] dominated the gain line and from there the backs did their job and that makes it easier for loose forwards coming in. [The opposition] don't really want to compete when we reach gain line and we can eye them up and take them out early [in the cleanouts]."
Hansen's comments about extending 31-year-old McCaw's career are interesting. The skipper has played 106 tests after making his debut against Ireland 11 years ago, and while Hansen sees him as a No7 only, there is a suggestion he will ease the Crusaders player's workload with help from Cane. The youngster is unlikely to take over during the Rugby Championship which starts in August but look for him to a play a big part on the end of year tour to Europe.
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick