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All Blacks stars make successful returns after long sideline spells

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Sam Cane, Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles have all successfully returned to action in the NPC and Heartland Championship following lengthy sideline spells.

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Their comebacks come less than a week before they, as well as Tasman loose forward Shannon Frizell and uncapped Taranaki lock Josh Lord, travel to Washington DC in preparation for the test match between the All Blacks and USA Eagles in a fortnight.

Cane dominated headlines earlier in the week after it was announced he would play for King Country in the Heartland Championship in his first match since tearing his pectoral while playing for the Chiefs against the Blues in March.

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The decision to allow the All Blacks captain to play for King Country came as a result of the fact that his home province, Bay of Plenty, didn’t have a game this weekend due to the Covid-enforced cancellation of their match against Counties Manukau.

With no game time under his belt in more than half a year, both Cane and All Blacks boss Ian Foster were keen for the 29-year-old to play some kind of rugby before flying out to the American capital on Thursday.

That was enough for Cane transfer to King Country on a seven-day deal, and, despite outlining that he would only play 40 minutes in their clash against Whanganui, the 74-test international played into the second half at Owen Delany Park in Taupo.

Starting at openside flanker, Cane produced an understated performance but remained busy throughout the encounter before being subbed in the 57th minute.

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However, despite his best efforts, Cane couldn’t stop Whanganui to romping to a 48-13 victory over the Rams, who were without numerous players due to a regional lockdown in Waikato.

Nevertheless, Cane was pleased with his successful return from injury and the unique opportunity to represent King Country in the Heartland Championship.

“Pretty good,” Cane said of his outing in a post-match interview with Sky TV.

“[It’s] just awesome to be back playing footy. It’s been a long wait. And thanks King Country and Whanganui for having me out here today, it was awesome to be involved, and cool to see so many people out and about too.

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“[I] stayed 25-30 minutes down the road at mum and dad’s last night, and dad drove me in. I’ve played on this ground a fair few times as a kid growing up, so it’s cool to be back.”

Cane’s appearance came a day after Coles and Whitelock squared off against each other in Wellington’s 35-30 extra-time victory over Canterbury at Sky Stadium.

A try two minutes into extra-time by one-test midfielder Peter Umaga-Jensen was enough to clinch a win for the Lions, but the fitness and injury status of Coles and Whitelock will have held more importance for the All Blacks selectors.

Neither player had featured since the opening two Bledisloe Cup matches in Auckland two months ago as Coles had battled with a calf injury, while Whitelock didn’t travel with the All Blacks to Australia for the Rugby Championship to attend the birth of his third child.

Both players emerged from the contest unscathed, with Coles playing 47 minutes before being replaced by replacement hooker James O’Reilly.

Whitelock, meanwhile, managed to play the entire match in a workman-like showing that bodes well for his selection chances agains the United States at FedEx Field.

Cane, Whitelock, Coles, Frizell and Lord will be joined by their All Blacks teammates next Sunday following a training camp on the Sunshine Coast this week.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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