Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Cane set to fill McCaw's boots

Chiefs' flanker frontrunner to take over while captain takes break from rugby.

Sam Cane could be anointed All Black openside flanker in the absence of Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Cane could be anointed All Black openside flanker in the absence of Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

A penny for Sam Cane's thoughts as the young flanker discovered his All Black mentor Richie McCaw was heading for a break at the end of the year.

The consequences will intrigue the nation, which has revered McCaw, even more after he turned down the offer of a knighthood, became the first All Black to play 100 tests and then on one foot, led the All Blacks to their second World Cup triumph.

In essence, if McCaw returns in rude health after his holiday he will miss only three tests against France next June.

Since he was appointed to succeed Tana Umaga as skipper in 2006, McCaw has led the All Blacks in 73 internationals with Reuben Thorne, Jerry Collins, Mils Muliaina, Rodney So'oialo, Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore filling in as leader when he was unavailable.

Kieran Read will captain the Crusaders in McCaw's absence and there is some logic about him performing the same duties with the All Blacks.

The theories about the next test openside flanker will also escalate.

Cane must have the inside track because he has been identified by the selectors as the player most likely to reproduce some of the displays McCaw has spread across the world.

The 20-year-old Cane has been involved in two tests and is on the current driveby trip to Argentina and South Africa.

If his form stays and he acquits himself well in next season's Super rugby, Cane will be favoured and likely to get some test week tutelage from McCaw.

There will be others who will challenge those theories and look to rework their playing styles to nudge the selectors.

Matt Todd came close to the World Cup squad when McCaw was damaged and Tanerau Latimer was terrific all year for the Chiefs and was an All Black three years ago.

There have been times when Adam Thomson has been used in that role though he may be heading abroad while thought could be given to Liam Messam or Victor Vito having a run.

Others who have been strong in the Super series such as Jack Lam might interest or a wildcard like rookie ITM Cup flanker Ardie Savea, who has been a force for Wellington.

If the All Black selectors consider Cane should wear the black No7 uniform next season, there will be some intrigue about how they give the specialist openside more international experience.

During the Rugby Championship, though, Cane missed out on a bench spot with Victor Vito usually covering the loose forwards. Cane's time may have to wait until the end-of-year tour unless McCaw is injured.

The contenders
* Sam Cane
* Matt Todd
* Tanerau Latimer
* Adam Thomson
* Liam Messam
* Victor Vito.

- NZ Herald

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