Returning to Europe is akin to a back to the future tour for Sam Cane.
From front and centre to on the fringe, Cane is content with the patient, realistic approach adopted with his return.
Nine years on from his maiden northern tour, when he started as a 20-year-old against Italy in Rome to conclude his rookie test season, Cane feels in a similar space as he gradually works his way back into the All Blacks.
Cane freely admits he's a long way off peak performance after playing two matches – one for King Country and last week's test return off the bench against the USA – in the past six months following simultaneous chest and shoulder surgeries.
He is, though, grateful to be back and appreciative of being afforded time to regain his rugby instincts and rebuild conditioning.
The mental shift from leading the All Blacks last year to biding his time appears one Cane is taking in his stride.
While not expected to feature against Wales in this weekend's sold-out test in Cardiff, Cane knows he will be better for his measured reintroduction.
"For people almost expecting I'd come in and try push for a starting spot straight off the bat probably don't appreciate how tough test match footy is," Cane said after the full All Blacks squad touched down in Cardiff from Washington DC. "I'm not quite in good enough shape or sharp enough to be playing test match footy right now that's for sure.
"My mindset is probably similar to when I first made the squad and knew I was going to get bugger all game time. It's about targeting each day and trying to be better each week and if I do that I'll be up to speed reasonably quickly but there's no expectation or pressure internally from the coaches to pick up where I left off.
"As long as I'm improving every week and hopefully get some game time at some stage we'll go from there based off merit."
In a non-pandemic consumed world Cane would have rejoined the All Blacks after several games for Bay of Plenty. Instead, he went from the Heartland Championship to the 104-14 rout of the USA, and appreciates his next test will require another significant step up.
"It's a good challenge. I'm loving being back among the high standards, the training levels and intensity. I'm used to that level, I know what's required. It's about making sure I can get my body back there doing it as quickly as possible.
"We've made a plan to reassess after the Italy game around how things are trucking. There's been no expectations or pressure. We're just going to take it week by week."
In Cane's absence the All Blacks have used four captains this year, with Sam Whitelock assuming the leadership mantle from Ardie Savea for the northern tour. Given the timing of his comeback, Cane is comfortable temporarily handing over the captaincy duties.
"It's pretty unique to have so many guys who have captained the team all assembled. It only puts the team in a better place in terms of the leadership overall. The squad is creating awesome depth and growth. For me it's nice to come back and just focus on getting back to performing highly without having that added leadership responsibility.
"It's a good common sense decision. I'm still myself in here; I help out and chip in where I can, but Sammy Whitelock has the big mantle and more responsibility at this stage."
Cane made a conscious effort to push aside any worries about reinjuring his shoulder or chest and to suppress potential nerves before his comeback test which allowed him to harness a sense of pride last week.
"I loved getting out there. I was surprisingly calm leading up to the game and when I got out there just enjoyed and trusted my rugby ability from the years gone by.
"You never take it for granted pulling on the All Blacks jersey but you certainly appreciate it a little bit more after knowing how much hard work has gone in to get back there.
"The lungs and legs got a work out. There was a little bit of rust in terms of timing but I'm looking forward to another week of training and getting better."
Cane can relate to former Chiefs team-mate Gareth Anscombe, who is expected to line up for the Wayne Pivac-led Wales alongside fellow New Zealanders Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo after playing three matches in the past 25 months after rupturing his ACL.
Anscombe now plays for Ospreys and qualifies for Wales through his Cardiff-born mother but emerged through the New Zealand schools and under-20s sides with Cane.
"Brodie [Retallick] and I took him under our wing at the Chiefs and toughened him up from a city kid into the player he is today," Cane chuckled. "Brodie and I were talking about hopefully one of us getting out there and getting a hold of him at a ruck.
"Because of the Covid restrictions there probably won't be any catching up prior to the test match but the injury he suffered with the ACL was particularly cruel in a World Cup year, and to then have the complications he had to get his femur broken to realign his knee is horrific stuff.
"To have a total of two years out – I'm talking about the challenge of coming back from six or seven months out – so he's a tough character. It's awesome to see him back playing and to be selected in the Welsh squad would be reward for countless hours of hard work.
"Everyone is pretty pumped to test themselves against the Six Nations champions."