Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen has faith in Cane's ability

Steve Hansen believes Sam Cane is ready for the toughest challenge of his short career on Saturday partly because he has the requisite mental toughness and an ability to put things in perspective.

It is a theme developed by the man himself, who stated yesterday as he prepared to take on a buoyant Springboks in what promises to be a blockbuster Rugby Championship test at Eden Park: "I'm not going to try to emulate Richie McCaw."

With the Boks one point ahead of the All Blacks, the winners will take a firm grasp of the Championship with two matches remaining - in New Zealand's case two tricky away tests against the Pumas and South Africa.

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Heyneke Meyer's men showed in their recent dismantling of the Wallabies that they have the ability to ask questions of defences. Loose forwards Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermuelen will be charged with providing momentum for their team and 21-year-old Cane will be in the firing line, all the while judged against McCaw, a man who has played 119 tests.

"He's been the best in the world for a long time and he's obviously the leader of this All Blacks team so it makes sense that there's going to be a bit missing when he's not out there, but all I can do is go out there and play my game," Cane said.

Asked whether New Zealand's long list of excellent No 7s - Graham Mourie, Michael Jones, Josh Kronfeld, McCaw et al - compounded the pressure and expectation, Cane said: "You put your own expectations on yourself and there are high expectations in this All Black environment so nothing really changes."

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He said his Super rugby experiences with the Chiefs over the past two years had greatly helped his progression - despite his tussle for the No 7 jersey with Tanerau Latimer, which has often seen him warm the bench. "What you can draw from those is the last 10 minutes when you're defending on your line and defending for the game; trusting yourself and trusting your mates beside you. That's pretty important and obviously when teams have success it's only going to promote individuals from that team. The Chiefs have been very important in getting me here."

Hansen said of Cane, who has played only nine tests: "He's ready. He's been around the environment for quite some time now.

"He's a good athlete [and] mentally he's able to put things in perspective... [which is] not an easy job coming in and following a guy like McCaw because you're compared to him all the time. He's just got to be his own man and do his own things that he does really well.

"How does he cope? We've got to do a job in the tight five and if we don't ... then their loose forwards as a trio will dominate."

Cane's Chiefs' teammate Liam Messam's return from a hamstring injury will add more of a defensive element to the pack, with No 8 and skipper Kieran Read a crucial element to the All Blacks in rounding out the home team's loose trio.

Cane recognises both the responsibility placed on his shoulders and the opportunity.

Having made his test debut against Ireland last year, he started all three tests against France in June when McCaw was having his sabbatical.

He said: "It's good to be starting. After a warm-up with the All Blacks and the atmosphere you're always ready to go anyway so it will be good not having to wait."

- NZ Herald

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