Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Golden opportunity for Jane's All Black comeback

All Blacks winger Cory Jane in action, during the 1st Bledisloe test match in 2014. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks winger Cory Jane in action, during the 1st Bledisloe test match in 2014. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Cory Jane's season could follow an unexpected but coveted path to the All Blacks now Nehe Milner-Skudder has been ruled out of Super Rugby.

Last week, Jane was on the bench at Eden Park and seemingly facing a bit of a struggle to wrestle back a starting spot at the Hurricanes.

Seven days later and he will wear No14 against the Force tonight and begin what potentially could be the biggest eight weeks of his career.

Jane has the perfect chance now to cement not only his place with the Hurricanes, but to force his way back into All Black contention.

What was once possible could become probable if the 33-year-old can deliver compelling evidence he's still the player he was in his prime.

In 2012, Jane was the best wing in the world. He had it all - an innate sense of timing, incredible auxiliary fullback skills, an effective fend, footwork, pace and intuition.

There wasn't a wing quite like him and he was close to sitting alongside Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter and Kieran Read in terms of his importance to the All Blacks.

But he missed most of 2013 with a serious knee injury and in his absence, Ben Smith promptly took Jane's benchmark and stuck it higher.

It was a breathtakingly quick changing of the guard - by November 2013, Smith was shortlisted as an IRB World Player of the Year and Jane, who had returned to the All Blacks by then, was suddenly a squad man.

It's been that way since - mainly because of injury, Jane hasn't had the extended game time he's needed to rekindle his form and confidence.

But while injury has been his curse it may now be his blessing. Jane hasn't played much football in the past two years and as a consequence, he's fitter and fresher, physically and mentally, than he's been in an age.

All that not-playing and not-training has maybe bought him an extra season or two in the top flight.

He's desperate to force his way back into test contention and knows he's been handed a golden opportunity to do so.

If he can deliver eight big weeks as part of a Hurricanes side slowly coming back to the boil, then he'll clearly be a tough man for the All Blacks to leave out.

But if he can't get back to being the player he once was, will it be time to try something new?

He's contracted until 2017 but given his loyalty and longevity, New Zealand Rugby would inevitably let him go early should he want.

A short-term deal to play in Japan may appeal - head off in October this year and be back in time for one last Super Rugby season in 2017.

- NZ Herald

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