Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Savea's impact shouldn't deflect from Cane's effort

The bells, already ringing for an Ardie Savea start ahead of Sam Cane in the third test against Wales in Dunedin, are likely to reach a crescendo tomorrow ahead of Thursday's All Blacks team announcement.

Coach Steve Hansen will have no problem blocking out the noise following 22-year-old Savea's impressive start to his test career, but one of his jobs this week might be turning down the volume for Cane, should he start as is expected.

Cane is a mature character, and is a member of the All Blacks' leadership group, but is only human and would have heard all the praise for new-boy Savea. There was mickey-taking in the team's Cake Tin changing room last Saturday after the chants for "Ardie, Ardie" as the crowd favourite came on again for Cane in the last quarter but, by all accounts, Savea isn't getting ahead of himself. In fact, apparently embarrassed by the attention, he quickly legged it for the showers.

Hansen has seen it all before and won't be swayed by public opinion. Cane captained the All Blacks at last year's World Cup, has been groomed for a long time as Richie McCaw's successor and is the incumbent No 7.

If Savea performs well in his impact role off the reserves bench, all well and good, but it won't and shouldn't deflect from the effort Cane is putting in at the start of two tests against a difficult and physical opposition in Wales.

The debate is reminiscent of the France series in 2013 when midfielder/outside back Rene Ranger played starring roles off the bench in Auckland and Christchurch during his team's victories, the latter a comprehensive 30-0 thrashing after a tighter 23-13 first-test win.

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Ranger's form was compelling and similar to Savea's in that he added a spark off the bench through his power and willingness to get stuck into everything. Ranger started the third test in New Plymouth ahead of Julian Savea on the left wing but, by his own admission afterwards, couldn't get into the game.

He ended up trying too hard to make a difference and was eventually replaced by Charles Piutau in the 24-9 win.

The game at the top level is different in the final quarter due to the physical and mental pressures involved. Fresh players are able to take advantage of fatigued and fractured defences, and few are able to take advantage like Savea.

Cane was good at that himself as McCaw's back-up, scoring three tries in his first five tests. After making his test debut in 2012 as a 20-year-old, Cane has now played 33 tests, more than half - 18 - as a replacement.

He needs time to get used to the role, one of the most demanding in test rugby. Savea's performances will be putting pressure on Cane, but he must use that to get the best out of himself. For the moment, the best will be enough for Hansen.

- NZ Herald

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