'I put my hand up': Ian Foster's big decision regarding Sam Cane
The All Blacks have just one final test remaining in their season after falling to a 29-20 victory in Dublin over the weekend. That means Ian Foster’s men have just one chance to redeem themselves before taking a well-earned rest over the New Zealand summer.
Almost half the 40-man will have already played their final game this year. Some will have played that final game last weekend in the scrappy but ultimately comfortable victory over Italy, but there’s one man who’s optimistic he’s put himself into the selection frame to play France after sitting out the loss to Ireland.
Sam Cane only made his return to the field late last month, earning 30 minutes off the bench against the United States. An injury suffered while representing the Chiefs in March saw the All Blacks captain sit out the bulk of the season with Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Ardie Savea taking on the leadership responsibilities in his absence, and Savea, Dalton Papalii and Ethan Blackadder filling his vacated No 7 jersey throughout the year.
Cane, however, believes he’s now ready to run out against an up-and-coming France outfit this weekend, having clocked up 110 minutes of international action since his return, and is hopeful the selectors read his name out later this week when naming the side to take on Les Bleus in Paris.
“I’m doing really good, have really enjoyed the last month or so away with the team and the first full 80 [minutes] against Italy, 10 days ago now, I felt like I put my hand up to hopefully play one of these last two tests,” Cane said on Monday.
“Whether that happens or not, we’ll have to wait and see but that’s all I can really do, put my hand up when it comes to playing and show that I’m up to it again. We’ll have to wait and see but hopefully.”
It’s a tough conundrum for head coach Foster, who will desperate to round out the year with a victory. Injecting Cane into the mix would mean breaking up the trio of Blackadder, Papalii and Savea, who were all industrious in defeat.
There’s also the other loose forwards in the squad to consider.
Like Cane, Shannon Frizell travelled to the USA and onto Europe directly from New Zealand after missing the Australian leg of the 10-game tour. His only match-day involvement to date was 28 minutes off the bench against Italy.
Luke Jacobson and Akira Ioane, meanwhile, have both flourished at various stages throughout the season for the All Blacks, with Ioane the incumbent No 6 at the beginning of the year but losing his place to Blackadder following the first test against the Springboks during the Rugby Championship. Ioane now hasn’t started a game since that clash, while Jacobson was used at number 8 in the second of the tests with South Africa but has been forced to cover the blindside flank in recent appearances in order to accommodate Hoskins Sotutu.
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Both Jacobson and Ioane will be hungry for minutes this weekend but Foster will be less than enthused about swapping out his entire loose forward trio – or even two of the three starters from the weekend gone.
Even if the likes of Cane, Frizell and Jacobson aren’t called upon to face France, however, the full-time All Blacks captain has insisted that spending time within the All Blacks camp has still been just as beneficial for development as it would have been to remain in NZ playing in the NPC.
“Playing rugby’s beneficial, without a doubt, because we’re footy players,” he said. “But being able to train with the All Blacks and at the level that they do, the speed and the skillset, is a massive boost.
“I feel like I’m a much better footy player today than I was three weeks ago, that’s for sure.”
Foster will name his line-up to take on France on Thursday evening (early Friday morning in New Zealand).
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