Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Sam Cane tackling the role as country's best No 7

Sam Cane will be absolutely essential to the Chiefs' game plan in the match against the Stormers this weekend. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Cane will be absolutely essential to the Chiefs' game plan in the match against the Stormers this weekend. Photo / Getty Images

Amid the general themes of dramatic results, epic contests and high-quality skill execution, Super Rugby delivered specific proof last weekend that New Zealand has an emerging glut of openside flankers who are going to have a major impact in the playoffs.

If there ever was concern about New Zealand's openside stocks in the wake of Richie McCaw's retirement, it has been quickly and easily quelled with Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Matt Todd becoming increasingly influential in the last few weeks.

All three are going to have a major bearing on results this weekend and top of the list is Cane, who delivered probably the best 80 minutes of his career against the Highlanders in a performance that had relentless energy, direction and impact. Cane's influence was enormous and nowhere did he make his presence more keenly felt than in his tackling.

Tackle counts form a big part of modern analysis, but volume tends to be more a guide for the amateur selector rather than the professional.

Super Rugby coaches are more interested in the quality of tackling and how many hits are dominant and it was in this respect that Cane came of age in Dunedin.

The majority of his tackles were dominant, powerful, unforgettable collisions where he buried big men and hurt them. While Cane has built a good reputation as a classic openside, the physicality of his work in Dunedin was new. He hasn't previously shown that ability to dominate bigger men and, now that he has, he looms as arguably the Chiefs' key player in Cape Town this weekend.

The Chiefs will be looking to force the Stormers to play behind the gainline. They will also be looking to disrupt the Stormers' possession as best they can and this was another huge area of success for Cane against the Highlanders.

When he wasn't the tackler, he was the lead forager for his side and, while he executed only one clean turnovers, he managed to either slow or disrupt Highlanders possession on several occasions.

He also carried the ball 14 times and was one of the few Chiefs who could be relied upon to stay on his feet through the first tackle and drive his way over the gainline.

His other telling contribution was his distribution, most notably when he held his running line and pass in the second half to make the space for Lachlan Boshier to score in the corner. His patience was testament to his confidence and this growing sense that he is steadily growing into his role as captain of the Chiefs and determined to prove he is the country's premier openside.

He knows competition for that title has been fierce and debate has been strong as to whether the All Blacks have had the right pecking order in starting tests with Cane and using Savea off the bench.

Savea has been setting new standards for opensides all season with his speed, power and athleticism. He was again impressive against the Crusaders in Christchurch and his opportunism and ability to use his leg drive in contact to win metres will be critical skills against the Sharks in Wellington.

Todd, who was beginning to feel like the forgotten man, has provided a timely reminder with his recent performances that he is a class act. He made 20 tackles against the Hurricanes and that sort of defensive stoicism will be needed at Ellis Park where games between the Lions and Crusaders have tended to be open and expansive.

- NZ Herald

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