Sam Cane may have become New Zealand's most under appreciated player. He's matured into a world class test player in the last 12 months and yet there remains a sense of many rugby followers being uncertain of what he brings.

It's not that uncommon, though, for a player to fail to win the public kudos they deserve. Cane isn't the first and won't be the last. It's taken a long time for Ryan Crotty to be fully understood and valued and poor old Reuben Thorne never earned the respect his grafting and controlled input deserved.

Cane's lack of adulation is explained largely by two factors. The first is that he is following in the footsteps of arguably the greatest No 7 to ever play. Richie McCaw did the unthinkable of appearing in 148 tests and never having a bad one.

But more than that, he played above the line in the sense that no one was more visible than him. His contribution was always easy to see and assess - he was just that sort of player.


Cane doesn't compare well in that sense, while his rival for the All Blacks No 7 jersey, Ardie Savea, does. Ardie Savea brings a style of rugby that is so easy to like and enjoy.

He's a natural athlete with no peer and an obvious desire to get involved.

He wins more admirers than Cane as a result. But Cane probably doesn't care that Ardie Savea continues to win the popular vote as New Zealand's favourite openside. He won't mind that the drums continue to beat for the high octane Savea because Cane wins the only vote that matters - that of the All Blacks selection panel.

They know that his brand of rugby is a vital component of their gameplan. They know that at test level substance matters more than style and that Cane is all about the former.

What maybe gets missed with Cane is how hard he tackles. In the first Bledisloe Cup test he led the All Blacks' tackle count with 25. It was 10 more made by Kieran Read who was second on the list but the numbers are only half the story.

What matters more in test football these days is the quality of the tackling and it is here where Cane is developing his art as one of the best in world rugby. He has increased his weight to 109kg, and with that explosive power, he's making the majority of his tackles dominant. How much that matters is difficult to accurately stress.

There is an intimidation factor that comes with his tackling now. It's not transparent as such, but there is a sense that as games develop, opposition ball runners tend to become wary of running into Cane. The tiniest element of hesitation grips them and that can be enough for an attack to die - or for the half chance to shrink to a quarter.

At that level, the game is won and lost on the gainline. Playing half a metre in front of it against half a metre behind makes an enormous difference. The Lions series showed that. When the All Blacks owned the collisions they won, when they didn't they either lost or drew.

Cane's tackling wins games as does his ball running. When he carries, he goes forward. And he goes forward in areas where it is not easy to advance - close to the ruck through the heaviest traffic. Again, it's small victories in these difficult to see areas that rally matter. He's all about hard graft unglamorous chores, but that's the real currency of test football.

In time it's inevitable that he will win more recognition for his undeniably valuable skill-set. Cane, in time, will become the country's favourite No 7 rather than the just being the choice of the purist. And it will happen because all good players eventually earn the respect which they deserve.