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'One injury away from retirement': All Black great's warning to Cane

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks captain Sir Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford has warned that incumbent skipper Sam Cane could be just an injury away from hanging up the boots for good.

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Cane was announced as one of five New Zealand-based players set to link up with the All Blacks for their northern hemisphere tour of the United States and Europe.

The announcement of his return marked a significant milestone for Cane, who hasn’t played at all since he tore his pectoral muscle while playing for the Chiefs against the Blues in March.

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After undergoing surgery on that and one of his shoulders, the 29-year-old flanker is set to play his first game in over six months when he makes a surprise outing for King Country against Whanganui in the Heartland Championship this weekend as part of a seven-day loan deal with Bay of Plenty.

Cane and the other domestically-based All Blacks – Sam Whitelock, Dane Coles, Shannon Frizell and uncapped lock Josh Lord – will then travel to Washington DC next Thursday, three days before the Australian-based squad arrive in the American capital, ahead of the team’s clash against the USA Eagles on October 23.

It’s that test at FedEx Field that Cane is targeting as his return to international rugby in what would be his first appearance for the All Blacks in almost 11 months.

However, Shelford, who played 22 tests for New Zealand between 1986 and 1990, has warned that, although the return of Cane is an undoubted asset for head coach Ian Foster’s side due to his playing ability, he needs to be careful about his health upon his return to action.

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“He is always probably one injury away from retirement from rugby, especially if it’s to the head,” Shelford told Newstalk ZB.

“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.”

In Cane’s absence from the All Blacks this year, Foster has called on a variety of players to step up and fill the leadership void as captain.

Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea and Brodie Retallick have all captained at least one test each, while veteran playmaker Beauden Barrett served as vice-captain throughout the Rugby Championship.

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Foster suggested on Monday that an assessment will be made in the United States on who will lead the All Blacks for their test against the Eagles and the following clash against Wales in Cardiff a week later.

The early indications are, though, that Savea, who captained the team for the majority of the Rugby Championship, is likely to retain leadership duties for the USA and Wales tests despite the return of Cane and Whitelock, who was captain for most of the mid-year and Bledisloe Cup series.

Shelford, who captained the All Blacks in 14 tests and was part of New Zealand’s 1987 World Cup-winning squad, said keeping Savea at the helm is important to his development as a leader, which he said will help bring the best out of the 27-year-old.

“I think he’s done a pretty good fist of it … he didn’t win on Saturday but I think he’s doing a good job,” Shelford said.

“But you’ve got to be in the position of captaincy for a while as well, and I think that Ardie probably needs a little more time in the seat to be able to really get the best out of him as a captain.”

He added that he believed Whitelock isn’t a certainty to make it to the 2023 World Cup, while Retallick doesn’t stack up compared to the other leaders of the squad.

“We’ve tried other guys. Whitelock, he might not be there for the World Cup… I don’t think Brodie comes into the picture at all, even though he had that one test match.”

Shelford also noted that burdening Smith, who won’t play for the All Blacks for the rest of the year as he awaits the birth of his second child in New Zealand, with captaincy duties could be detrimental to his status as the world’s best halfback.

“I wouldn’t want to see Aaron take on the captaincy in a bigger role because, his job as halfback, he’s just so good at what he does, you wouldn’t want to burden him with having that extra responsibility. He is the number one halfback in the world today.

“His passing is so accurate, his option taking – all those sorts of things – he gees up the boys really well and I wouldn’t want him to get it solely because it could damage his game a little bit if he has to worry about captaining and making other decisions.”

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