Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Sam Cane v Ardie Savea - The battle for the No.7 jersey

Sam Cane's mix of graft and craft and Ardie Savea's bash and dash have given the All Blacks a combination rather than competition at openside.

To borrow from entertainment parlance, it's a partnership that has cast Cane as the straight man - a role to which the audience never find easy to appreciate or gravitate.

But it's a vital role nonetheless and one that lays a significant foundation for the other half. To see the young Hurricane make such a promising start to his test carer is as much a tribute to Cane's hard work as it is to Savea's athleticism and natural instincts.

Both rugby tests against Wales this month have followed a similar pattern. They have been tight, physical, intense contests until midway through the second half. Essentially, the All Blacks have had to break the Welsh resistance and then send out the cavalry to make the most of the opportunity. Fresh legs such as Savea's have been able to exploit the space and opportunities the less structured game has afforded in the final 20 minutes.

These opportunities have come around, though, because Cane, among others, has made dominant tackles. He has hounded the Welsh at the tackled ball and been on hand to link the play and keep the attacking flow.

It's not so obvious or as glamorous, but it's what he's been asked to do and the All Blacks coaches are happy with the job Cane and Savea have been doing in tandem.

"There are two different styles and we have asked the two players to do two different things," says assistant All Blacks coach Ian Foster. "At the moment, we are pleased with both of them and it is up to us whether we keep the roles like that or whether at some point we change the roles around.

"But overall, the thing is that Ardie is showing that he's a great impact player and we have seen with the Hurricanes that he can start really well so we have some good choices. I know it is natural to compare one against the other but, for us, we look at the [match-day] 23 and think about how we use the different skill-sets we have got.

"They [Cane and Savea] have got great skill sets and are quality players and that is exactly the spot we want to be in."

The prospect of a role reversal is not thought to be in the pipeline and Cane is expected to start again this week, and build on the solid performances he has delivered so far in the series.

He's not feeling any undue pressure about the public clamouring for Savea to start and, far from feeling under threat, he's enjoying the opportunity to work in tandem.

There's even the prospect for Savea and Cane to be used together.

There were games last year and in 2014 when Cane and Richie McCaw played the last 20 minutes together, giving the All Blacks greater nuisance factor.

"He's tracking well," Cane says of Savea. "But in terms of pressure, how do you measure it? I am just worried about doing my role and we have been getting along pretty well and have been doing some work-ons together and feeding off each other.

"Deep down, we are all competitive people in this environment and you are ultimately competing for a spot. But what overrides that is the team first and foremost thing so, no matter who gets picked, who plays what for how long, you know that it is being done for the betterment of the team. Whether you like that or not, you suck it up because it is a bloody good team to be part of."

- NZ Herald

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