From the Rugby Championship scheduling saga to Beauden Barrett’s late scratching, there’s no shortage of distractions and disruptions for the All Blacks to contend with before the opening Bledisloe Cup test.
Sam Cane had enough on his plate as he prepares to start his new era, after assuming the captaincy from Kieran Read, by leading the All Blacks out for their first test of the year against the Wallabies tomorrow in Wellington, where they’ll be keen to rectify a one-from-four run of recent tests.
Cane, however, believes the All Blacks will adapt to Barrett’s late withdrawal, which brings Damian McKenzie into fullback while covering Richie Mo’unga at No 10. The new skipper is also confident his team has not expended too much wasted energy worrying about the Rugby Championship schedule that was finally finalised on Thursday.
“In the last couple of weeks things were always changing but I’ve enjoyed the process of this week because from Monday we’ve been focused on footy and preparing for a test match and that’s something we haven’t done for a long time,” Cane said after Barrett was ruled out with a minor Achilles injury this afternoon. “When you do that, and you’re putting all your energy into a good performance, that other stuff goes from your mind.
“It’s the start of a new era and the Bledisloe Cup is on the line. We want to put the first mark in the sand in winning that.”
Cane has been forced to bide his time since being appointed All Blacks captain in February. With that prolonged eight-month wait almost over, Cane is intent on continuing the All Blacks dominance over the Wallabies that extends to holding the Bledisloe for the past 17 years.
“Excitement is probably an understatement it’s been a long time coming hasn’t it? There’s a wee bit of a different feel in the environment just because there’s been a few changes. I put in a wee bit of work at the start of the week connecting with the leaders and enabling them to lead as well which has allowed me to relax and focus on my own preparation too.”
Cane lines up alongside resurgent blindside Shannon Frizell and Ardie Savea in the loose forward trio, with Blues No 8 Hoskins Sotutu eager to make his debut off the bench in front of his mum, dad, two sisters, brother and partner, all of whom ventured from Auckland to Wellington to witness his maiden test.
“I know they’ll be crying in the stand somewhere,” Sotutu said as he reflected on a whirlwind season in which his goal at the start of the year was to start for the Blues.
“Thinking a year ago I was playing at a sevens tournament with my club, Auckland Marist. A year later possibly making a test debut is pretty crazy.
“More than anything coming into the environment is a bit scary because it’s a highly looked at team with all the history behind it and all the players that have gone through the jersey. Meeting some of the older boys from around the country they’re all pretty easy to get along with.
“I’m pretty good at keeping relaxed until it comes game time. Yesterday when we had a training at Sky Stadium the nerves started to kick in a little bit. I was thinking the stadium would be packed and I’ll be singing the national anthem. For sure, when it’s kickoff I’ll be nervous but hopefully by the time I get on I’ll be back down to ground zero.
“I’m confident in myself. I believe that if I get the chance to go on and get ball in hand I’ll go pretty well. Until that comes I’ve got to stay ready.”
Cane expects the new-look Wallabies, under his former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie and in captain Michael Hooper’s 100th test, to seriously test the All Blacks this weekend.
“If I know Dave Rennie he’ll drive into his side that they work hard and fight for every inch,” Cane said. “They’ll be very physical but like to use the ball too so there won’t be any moments where we can switch off.
“Hoops is a seriously impressive and combative man. He’s played a heck of a lot of footy and I think we’re a similar age. Congratulations to him, we’ll be doing our best to spoil his party but it’s no mean feat and he’s been an outstanding servant for Australian rugby.”
The last duty left for Cane before getting his captaincy reign underway will be delivering the final pre-match messages.
“It will be about backing ourselves, trusting that we’ve put in the work, and knowing it’s going to be a heck of a test match – these ones always are. It will be physical. It will be fast. It will test us all physically and mentally. That’s what we want.”
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