When Sam Cane first broke his neck during a test in South Africa last October, there were fears over whether he would ever play rugby again. The 27-year-old was operated on in Pretoria, with two vertebrae being fused together and wrapped in metal. Specialists reported there was no nerve damage. He was in a neck brace for six weeks and the race against time to find his form and fitness for this year's World Cup was on. Now, more than seven months later, he is back playing and captaining the Chiefs. Sports reporter David Beck spoke to him about his journey.
Chiefs captain Sam Cane admits, mentally, getting back into the swing of Super Rugby took longer than he had expected.
Having successfully rehabilitated a broken neck suffered during a test in South Africa last October, he made his return to Super Rugby from the bench against the Blues on May 18.
"The first one was the toughest, I was sort of hoping to get out there and make my first tackle or hit my first ruck to get me into the game but it wasn't quite like that.
"Going into most collisions that game against the Blues [the injury] was in the back of my mind. That following week, I thought to myself 'this might take a little longer than I thought'.
"I had done pretty much everything I could in training, other than play the game, so it wasn't like it was a big step up. You can't replicate game intensity at training but I'd been making tackles for about a month and progressing those up to full intensity.
"It was just that uncertainty when it comes to game time, the unpredictability, but I was ready to play."
He has since led the Chiefs to wins over the Reds and Crusaders and said mentally and physically, he was now back to feeling 100 per cent, albeit with a slightly reduced range of motion.
"The next game against the Reds, I was fine, I was just back to playing rugby. It wasn't lingering in the back of my mind so I was really happy with that, especially after that first game back when I was wondering how long it would take to get over that mental hurdle.
"I was always going to lose a little bit of my range after my surgery because it fused two vertebrae together but otherwise I feel fine."
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Steamers flying the flag in Super Rugby
One of the hardest aspects of Cane's rehibilitation was watching from the sideline as his Chiefs teammates struggled early in the season - they lost four of their first five games.
However, they turned things around and a bonus point win over the Melbourne Rebels this weekend will all but secure them a spot in the playoffs, as long as the Stormers don't lose but gain two bonus points against the Sharks, which is highly unlikely.
"To be honest, it was quite tough. It wasn't too bad watching the All Blacks end of year tour because we were going alright but the Chiefs season, being a captain and a leader in the squad, you're a pretty big part in how things are going.
"Not being able to feel like I was contributing or help out when things weren't going well at the start was frustrating and tough. Especially when the boot was getting put in from many people as well.
"It's awesome to be back out there playing with those boys."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will select a 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup later in the year following the Rugby Championship and for Cane being selected would have extra significance after what he had been through.
"Obviously it would be pretty special to make the World Cup squad regardless. When [the injury] happened the World Cup wasn't really on my mind but as the months progressed and I was going to return to play it's definitely been a goal."
Chiefs (10th) v Rebels (8th)
WHEN: Today, at 9.45pm
WHERE: AAMI Park, Melbourne