By Michael Pulman of RugbyPass.com
2020 has been a challenging year for Chiefs skipper Sam Cane, but through all the noise about the teams' poor run of results in Super Rugby Aotearoa has come a very simple message from a seasoned veteran who's keen to focus on how it will better serve the franchise moving forward.
Growth. That's where the Chiefs and incoming All Blacks captain wants to focus his attention right now.
The small margins have been what has hurt this Chiefs team the most, from the coaches to the players, being on the wrong side of the little moments in games has been the clear and obvious factor in many of the Chiefs' losses throughout Super Rugby.
It's this frustrating feeling when looking back at a campaign full of "if only we had done that" examples during review that Cane hopes will serve those who have signed on at the Chiefs long-term well moving forward.
The veteran loose forward doesn't make excuses for the Chiefs' fortunes, not for a single second, admitting that for himself personally, being involved in a side with this long a losing-streak has been foreign territory.
In an honest conversation with RugbyPass this week, Cane says that accountability within the Waikato-based franchise has never been higher and that the weekly reviews have been clear reminders that the definition of performance doesn't just sit on the final result at the end of each 80 minutes.
"There is absolutely no doubt we've been disappointed with the results", Cane said. "There's been plenty of times when we've sat in the review and realised if we didn't muck certain plays up then we would've been in with a better shot."
Examples of the muck ups Cane talks about are many and represent the various microscopic moments in games that have tended to compound the Chiefs' issues.
Whether it be some of the 50/50 passes, dropped balls, penalties at the breakdown, or badly directed kicks when keeping the ball in hand would've been the better option, these are the little moments that Cane and his teammates are refusing to shy away from now that the curtain has come down on the 2020 campaign.
The prevailing feeling within Chiefs camp is that more opportunities to cross the chalk have been lost versus those converted throughout 2020.
With that said, Cane points out that one key area of focus for the leadership group has been monitoring the levels of enthusiasm within the team during the difficult run.
On that front, the Chiefs have excelled remarkably, as anyone close to the environment during this time will report if being truly honest.
Sitting at the bottom of the table and having not a single win on the belt sure looks like a bad place to end a season that started out with so much prospect, but what's going on behind the scenes at Chiefs HQ is a fair conversation that Cane is willing to have and is arguably what the franchise should be measured against.
"These experiences teach the young guys about fronting up when times are tough, it's about picking yourself off the deck and working hard to go again, knowing that through adversity you'll become stronger and will be better off for this experience."
Being a seasoned veteran and understanding that the majority of headlines will be about the final results, refereeing decisions, coaches and more, Cane says that the Chiefs leadership group has been internally focused on nurturing the team environment rather than worrying about the outside noise.
"We try to ensure that the players are living the values and standards that we expect of them. They're doing really well on that front so you can't be too frustrated at the players, it's about having a growth mindset and keeping the belief which, in my opinion, has been shown in all the games we've played."
In the immediate future, Cane will undergo return-to-play protocols after suffering a concussion in a nasty knock against the Hurricanes.
RugbyPass understands that All Black players will be allowed to play up to three games of Mitre 10 Cup rugby prior to the international window beginning in October/November, but whether or not Cane could feature at all for his beloved Bay of Plenty will be dependant on his recovery from concussion.
This article first appeared on RugbyPass.com and has been republished with permission