Sam Cane’s first Bay of Plenty outing in four years will headline a short-lived throwback as the freshly-named All Blacks return to their provincial roots this week.
With the All Blacks schedule not due to be confirmed until later this week Ian Foster’s 35-man squad departed Wellington to link with their respective Mitre 10 Cup teams.
While crowds cannot attend the opening weekend, the All Blacks are available for the first two rounds of the provincial season which gets underway on Friday night in Albany.
The presence of New Zealand’s elite athletes scattered throughout the country’s 14 unions will end a drought for many players.
All Blacks captain Cane last played for Bay of Plenty in 2016 after tearing his hamstring against Argentina, while Beauden Barrett last pulled on Taranaki’s amber and black in 2012.
After almost one month on the sidelines, which included sitting out the North South fixture, Cane has sufficiently recovered from the nasty head knock he took when colliding with Jordie Barrett’s hip while playing for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Reporoa-raised Cane is now relishing the chance to return with Bay of Plenty against the Barrett brothers in Inglewood on Sunday.
“The first couple of weeks after the knock were up and down with a few little headaches and getting a bit weary towards the end of the day but I followed the protocols and rested until I was feeling really good,” Cane said at NZ Rugby headquarters on Sunday.
“I’ve eased into some exercise the last few weeks and really ramped up this last week or so, all the while feeling really good so I hope to pull on that Bay jersey next week.
“They’ve been training away the last few weeks so I won’t have to worry about the leadership side of things, I’ll just enjoy being part of the team. Bay of Plenty had an awesome year last year and they’re in the top flight this year so it’ll be awesome to be involved with them again.
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“After debuting for Bay of Plenty as an 18-year-old and looking at some of the old boys on the wall I was hoping to get to 50 games but I’m stranded in the low 20s at the moment because of the way professional rugby has evolved over that time. It will be great to get back – I’ll have to pull my old blazer out the cupboard and dust it out.
“At the moment it looks like we’ll definitely be playing two games. That’s something all the All Blacks can look forward to. It’s been a long time since we’ve had so many involved in Mitre 10 Cup so there’ll be a buzz around that and the provinces will be excited.
“It’s a great thing to do, mix with some really young guys out of club rugby. It’s a real broad mix of players. Everyone has that pride associated with their province. A lot of the boys play for the team they grew up supporting so that’s cool, too.”
As with everyone, it’s been a strange and at times frustrating season for Cane. Foster asked him to be All Blacks skipper back in February and he then had to keep his anointment quiet until the official announcement in May.
Four months on, Cane is yet to lead the All Blacks into a test.
“The announcement of captain was early on in the piece but no one could predict that test matches were going to be so far away. There’s always a buzz and anticipation the day the All Black team gets announced and today was no different. You can think back and appreciate what it was like to be named the first time.
“Watching the new boys light it up during Super Rugby it was exciting to get us all sitting in a room this morning and share that buzz. Hopefully we don’t have to wait too much longer to get together as a team.
“Logistically it makes sense that we play Aussie. Over the last month or so I’m a bit over guessing what could happen because it changes all the time so we’ll just wait and see.”
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