Referee Glen Jackson probably spoke for supporters of the game everywhere when he turned to Sam Cane before a lineout during the Blues v Chiefs match at Eden Park and said simply: "Welcome back".

It would have been a long and difficult road for Cane, 27, to negotiate in returning from a broken neck suffered while playing for the All Blacks in Pretoria last October.

He would have feared at different stages of his recovery that the game for him was over but his perseverance and the support he has received paid off on Saturday when he replaced Mitch Karpik as a temporary blood substitute in the first half of the Blues' 23-8 victory. He returned as a fulltime replacement for the final 26 minutes.

Cane's game is about confrontational defence – especially front on – so for him to return seven months after his injury and immediately set about the Blues' ball carriers is extremely good news for himself and also the All Blacks selectors.


Cane has an important leadership role with the All Blacks and he and Ardie Savea are set to provide a potentially devastating partnership at the World Cup in four months.

"We tried to really manage Sam and the good thing is he got game time and he's looking good for the country. The Chiefs and the country," Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said.

"We saw a couple of big hits and he didn't shy off anything. It's good to see him back."

Cane's return was one of the few positives for Cooper and the Chiefs, who saw their playoffs hopes all but disappear at the final whistle.

And it might have been a case of mixed emotions for the All Blacks selectors too once they found out All Blacks skipper Kieran Read was a late withdrawal from his side's 19-all draw with the Stormers at Newlands due to a shoulder/neck injury.

The Crusaders No8 was scratched as a precaution but assistant coach Brad Mooar was wary about stating that Read would definitely be available to play the Blues in Christchurch next Saturday.

The 33-year-old veteran, in his last year with the Crusaders and All Blacks, had major back surgery at the end of the last year and easing him through until after the World Cup will be a major priority.

"He took a knock at training — we gave him every chance to be right. He just wasn't quite right so it wasn't worth the risk," Mooar said.


"It's the shoulder and neck area... from a cleanout scenario at training. Bodies moved, he took a slight knock.

"It's a bit like a stinger that hasn't gone away. We're pretty confident he'll bounce back pretty quickly.

"[Selection against the Blues] is something we'll have to have a look at. Whether that's the case or he needs a bit longer - the medical team will have a good look at that on the way back [from South Africa].

"It doesn't look a serious issue at this point."

There was better news about midfielder Ryan Crotty, a player with a history of concussion problems, who left the field during the match in Cape Town but only to receive a few stitches in his head.

Another World Cup contender, Waisake Naholo, was unable to take the field against the Lions in Johannesburg because of his lingering knee problem.