Rugby: Captain Cane in uncharted waters

By Kris Shannon

Sam Cane has enjoyed a busy season both with the Chiefs and the All Blacks. Photo / Getty
Sam Cane has enjoyed a busy season both with the Chiefs and the All Blacks. Photo / Getty

From backing up after a busy All Blacks campaign to donning the No 8 jersey - Sam Cane is in uncharted waters.

Already vastly accomplished at the age of 24, having encountered a full range of experiences at Super Rugby and international levels, Cane still has capacity for a couple of firsts heading into tomorrow's clash with the Reds.

The Chiefs co-captain will in Brisbane attempt to navigate a brand new position and, unlike teammate Brodie Retallick, is almost certainly about to battle through the remainder of the campaign without a rest following his All Blacks exploits.

Cane has become accustomed to trading one black jersey for another at this time of year, but the 2016 season will be the first in which he's been ever-present for both the Chiefs and All Blacks.

While he was in the run-on XV for all three tests against France in 2013 - earning promotion while Richie McCaw enjoyed a sabbatical - Cane at that point was still swapping Super Rugby starts with Tanerau Latimer. And after winning the full-time openside duties at the Chiefs, Cane was initially restricted to cameos with the All Blacks.

But after featuring for 197 minutes in last month's visit of Wales, Cane has since twice been selected in Dave Rennie's starting team, a standing unlikely to change given only tomorrow and a decisive trip to Dunedin stands between the Chiefs and the playoffs.

Such a workload must be taxing. Rennie handed Retallick a week off after calling him "buggered", and the lock has this season spent significantly less time (686 minutes in nine games) in the middle than Cane (1001 minutes in 13 games).

And even Kieran Read, renowned for his workhorse qualities, was this weekend given time a chance to rest weary legs, having also played fewer minutes (938 in 12 games) than his All Blacks teammate.

But Cane - who sits second in Super Rugby with 154 tackles - would have it no other way.

"I'm feeling all good so touch wood it stays that way," Cane said of his unceasing availability. "At this point in the season it's pretty crucial we get the job done, so I'm pretty keen to get out there with the boys."

There is a mitigating factor behind Cane's abiding presence. Or rather, there are several: Michael Leitch, Johan Bardoul, Mitchell Karpik and Sam Henwood.

That quartet is currently unavailable for selection due to injury, continuing a nightmarish season among the Chiefs loose forwards. Which meant, in the reshuffle that followed Retallick's exclusion, Cane found himself shifted to the back of the scrum.

It's a position he's never started for the Chiefs but one where he's finished games and one Rennie has regularly raised with his young charge. But while adding versatility is never a bad thing, Cane has no intention of ceding either of his No 7 jerseys.

He does appear to have a scrap on his hands in the All Blacks, with many fans calling for the spectacular Ardie Savea to start over the solid Cane against Wales. But Cane steadily grew into his new role and, as he has done all season, maintained his place on the pitch.

"By the time we got to the last test I was just enjoying it a little bit more and was just a wee bit more comfortable within the group," he said. "I was just excited by the opportunity to play in the No 7 jersey for a decent period of time."

- NZ Herald

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