Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: ABs try to stay up over loss of skipper

Hansen takes positive approach despite 'huge loss' of top openside for two tests.

Israel Dagg has called Richie McCaw's absence from the next two tests a "huge loss" but coach Steve Hansen is determined to paint a more positive picture, saying the examination it will give his side's depth is no bad thing with a World Cup defence approaching.

The All Blacks coped well without the resting McCaw in the three June internationals against France, with Sam Cane performing satisfactorily. Saturday's Rugby Championship match against the Springboks at Eden Park, however, will be a whole new level for the 21-year-old.

"He's ready for it," Hansen said yesterday of Cane, following McCaw's departure from the Waikato Stadium pitch with a knee injury. "He [Cane] has played some good rugby for us. He hasn't played a poor test, I don't think, and he's played some very, very good ones.

"I think a lot of players in years gone by have been, I wouldn't say frightened, but certainly burdened by the expectations which come with being an All Black.

"The way we've tried to do things here, and some may say it's wrong and others right, is that we've tried to introduce them slowly and get them used to the expectations and what it's like to be an All Black."

Hansen's knack of introducing players to this level and having them perform as though they were born to it is impressive - loose forward Steven Luatua is the most recent. It's a tactic designed with an eye to the future but also the here and now.

"If you look into the future, we've got to have people who can come in and come out of the team if we're going to win a World Cup [in 2015]. If we want to win test matches today we've got to have people who can fit in and we've shown we can do that."

The pressure will be on Chiefs flanker Cane to prove himself, though, and he could get some special attention from the visitors on Saturday.

The Springboks looked impressive in beating the Wallabies 38-12 at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium and will come to Auckland knowing they have the scrum and firepower in the backs to ask the All Blacks some serious questions.

Hansen said yesterday McCaw's knee was still sore but the prognosis on the medial ligament strain was slightly improved to the one delivered after the scrappy 28-13 victory at Waikato Stadium.

McCaw could return in four weeks. He will be targeting the return match against the Boks in Johannesburg on October 6, meaning he will miss Saturday's test and also the September 29 return against the Pumas at La Plata.

Hansen, who could welcome back loose forward Liam Messam from a hamstring strain and possibly first-five Aaron Cruden from a knee injury this week, believes the South Africans have achieved a greater balance to their game under coach Heyneke Meyer.

Some things don't change, though. Fullback Dagg, for one, is preparing for an aerial bombardment.

"They're going to put the ball up and they're going to put us under pressure. They're going to feed off that so hopefully we can limit our mistakes."

All Blacks 28
Argentina 13

- APNZ

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