Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Opportunity knocks for flankers

With McCaw out of the picture Cane relishes chance to cement AB position.

Sam Cane has spoken of the unique opportunity he and New Zealand's other openside flankers have been presented with by Richie McCaw's absence next month.

There is no doubt that Cane has the inside running for the All Blacks' No7 jersey after his four tests for the national team last year, but he said he doesn't think that way and that is probably a good thing. Despite an increase in game time this season, Cane hasn't quite replicated his form of last year with the Chiefs.

Matt Todd at the Crusaders and Luke Braid from the Blues have possibly shaded him, which may be a reflection of how well their respective forward packs are playing compared with the Chiefs at times. Ardie Savea, John Hardie and Karl Lowe are others who have been mentioned as having claims by All Black coach Steve Hansen.

Asked if he was feeling the malaise which seems to be affecting some of his All Black teammates, Cane replied: "I'm probably not really in that category.

I was part of the All Blacks last year but only played a handful of tests. My focus is to really play well and try to push to get into that All Blacks squad again."

He doesn't deny that an All Black starting spot was in his mind. "It's definitely an opportunity isn't it? Every No7 in the country is pushing hard for that spot so it's probably the first time in about 10 years that it's guaranteed that Richie isn't going to be there so it's an opportunity for sure."

Cane is part of a Chiefs team not quite firing this season, yet it remains clearly the best New Zealand conference side and is only one competition point away from the top of the table.

Defence has been an issue - it was even before they leaked five tries to the Rebels in their win in Melbourne last weekend - and as a loose forward Cane is an important part of the mix.

"It's been something we've been trying to work on," Cane said. "If you look at the stats we've been slowly getting better in some areas but in other areas we're just slipping off.

"I don't think we're far off but it's definitely frustrating to score some good tries but then leak tries like we have in our last two games.

"Last year the title was won off the back of our defence and we know that's going to have to happen again."

The Force, the Chiefs' opposition tonight at Pukekohe's EcoLight Stadium, have the potential to cause an upset after their 11-11 draw against the Reds in Perth last weekend.

- APNZ

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