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Ex-All Black hits back at Shelford's 'retirement' comment of Cane

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

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Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons says he would bet against Sir Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford’s comments that All Blacks captain Sam Cane is “one injury away from retirement from rugby”.

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Shelford, the legendary former All Blacks skipper, told Newstalk ZB last week that Cane, who was sidelined for over six months with a torn pectoral until last weekend, could be on the brink of retiring from rugby if he picks up another substantial injury.

“He is always probably one injury away from retirement from rugby, especially if it’s to the head,” the 1987 World Cup-winner, who captained the All Blacks in 14 of his 22 test appearances, said.

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“He’s had a lot of concussions in his career and if he gets another one, that could be the end of his career quite easily.”

Cane has endured many injuries throughout his career, the most serious of which came in 2018 when he broke his neck while playing for the All Blacks against the Springboks in Pretoria.

However, speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons said Cane’s ability to bounce back from that injury, and the other setbacks he has faced, illustrates his mental strength and proves he still has plenty to offer as a rugby player.

“He’s a proven, solid healer,” Parsons, who played two tests for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2016, said of the 29-year-old.

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“He himself puts it down to deer velvet. I don’t know if that’s always the case. I think it’s down to his mental resilience, but I would never back against him in terms of coming back from anything.”

Parsons, who retired from rugby earlier this year due to lingering concussion symptoms, noted that he believes it’s unhealthy for players to focus on the possibility that they could pick up a career-ending injury in their next match.

“I think any player is one knock away [from retirement]. The reality of our sport at the moment, it’s physically demanding. I don’t think it’s healthy for players to think like that.

“You’ve got to go out there and play and he has a really good mindset to keep playing that physical, abrasive game that we know and love.

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“I certainly would be betting against that comment, just because of who he is and what has come. The [broken] neck itself, it’s such an impressive ability to come back and play test match level after that, and it just shows where he’s at.

“He knows his body best. Individuals know their body and you know when you’re right, and there’s no way he’d go out on that field if he wasn’t ready and I don’t think he’d ever go out on that rugby field thinking, ‘I’m one knock away or one injury away’.

“He’s just not built like that.”

Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall added that player welfare has become a top priority in the professional era and that there are plenty of systems in place to ensure Cane’s safety upon return to action.

“I think Buck’s got a pretty good understanding around how physical our game is, but I think … where we’ve developed as a rugby community is around concussions and being able to put those protocols in place to be able to play safely,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“Yes, Sam has obviously had a few head knocks and injuries, like all players do. Obviously he’s had a couple more than usual, but there’s great things in place with the All Blacks, the Chiefs, and the information and tests that you do have to [do to] be able to put yourself in a position to play safely.

“Probably back in Buck’s day, they were tougher in being able to have the old kind of mindset around, ‘I’ll be right, let’s just get through’, when they’re going through concussion symptoms.

“But, in this day and age, they’re in a position to, first and foremost, put the players’ safety first, and we tend to do that a lot now.”

Cane returned from his most recent injury with a rare one-off appearance for King Country in the Heartland Championship last Saturday before flying out to Washington DC on Thursday ahead of the All Blacks test against the USA Eagles next weekend.

Parsons said it was “exciting” to see the 74-test international back on the playing field as he emerged unscathed in a 57-minute showing in Taupo.

“I think it was exciting for everyone. It certainly made me watch the game to see how he’s tracking, but he looked pretty good,” Parsons said.

“He would have been doing a lot of fitness work and no doubt nailing his broncos, but, for some reason, when you do all that fitness work, it doesn’t always transpire into that rugby fitness, so he would have gotten a lot out of it.

“Probably a good stepping stone into, probably, playing against the US.”

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

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