Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Irish connection crucial for Cane

Sam Cane of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Cane of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

Ireland as an opponent hold a special significance for Sam Cane.

The All Blacks flanker started his career against the men green in two very different tests last year. In the first he came on as a replacement for No8 Kieran Read on a freezing June night in Christchurch, a match won 22-19 thanks to Dan Carter's wobbly dropped goal in the final minutes.

In the other, a week later on his home track of Waikato Stadium, Cane started in the No7 jersey and made a long-lasting impact, scoring two tries and making 20 tackles. It appeared that here indeed was Richie McCaw's heir apparent.

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He has developed massively since then too, impressing particularly against the Springboks at Eden Park and Australia in Dunedin this year. A member of the leadership group at the tender age of 21, Cane is set for a big future.

In 14 tests (with nine starts) he has yet to taste defeat in a black jersey. He also has a finely-tuned nose for the tryline, touching down seven times, including four tries in his past five tests.

He owes his debut to a heavy knock suffered by Read _ who was celebrating his 50th test _ in that arm-wrestle in Christchurch and he could hardly have wished for a more dramatic one.

"I remember being told about two minutes before the second half started that Kieran Read was no good and I was going to be out there,'' he said. "It all happened pretty quickly. I remember it was a bloody cold night. There wouldn't have been much time left on the clock but I remember cleaning out a ruck. I think Richie might have taken it off the back [of the scrum], I cleaned that ruck and looked up and the ball was sailing over the posts with DC putting a droppy over.

"I was relieved that my test debut didn't end in a draw.''

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A week later and a tired Ireland were demolished 60-0 in Hamilton - a different experience for the youngster.

"That was a special night. I believe loose forwards can only play as well as their team allows them to. They get into the game by how their forward pack is going and how their backline is playing. That day obviously things seemed to click and made my job pretty easy in my first start.

"It was a pretty special game being on my home track as well."

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said Ireland's closer defeats in Auckland (42-10) and Christchurch were more representative of the threat they possessed.

"They were extremely tired at that point [Hamilton]. They had put a lot of energy into those first two test matches at the end of a very long season. I think the more accurate barometer of that tour was the first and second tests. It was a very even tour.''

He added of the upcoming test at Aviva Stadium, the All Blacks' 14th and final one of the year: "Playing in Dublin is pretty special for us. Nothing has come easy for us here.''

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