The 27-year-old has been cleared to partake in contact training with the Chiefs, six months after sustaining what could have been a career-ending injury during New Zealand’s dramatic 32-30 win over the Springboks in Pretoria.
Cane has been engaging in non-contact training with the Hamilton-based Super Rugby franchise since pre-season, but being allowed to take part in training sessions that involves tackling, rucks, mauls and scrums is a positive sign as the 60-test veteran eyes a spot at this year’s World Cup in Japan.
A return date for the Chiefs’ co-captain’s return has remained indefinite as the Super Rugby season has progressed, but there has been hope for a return by late April-early May.
Head coach Colin Cooper told Stuff he is excited for Cane’s return, which should provide pressure for in-form Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea, who has stood out as Super Rugby’s premier flanker in Cane’s absence.
“He had a little bit of contact yesterday and we’ll manage him through some contact in the next two weeks and take it from there,” Cooper said.
“It’s exciting for him and he’s excited to be back. It’s been a tough journey for him but, as the co-captain, he’s been playing a key part and making sure there’s accountability and some honesty among us coaches and the players.”
Cooper said he was unsure of what the exact plan is regarding the pathway to Cane’s return over the next month or so, but suggested it may involve playing club rugby at grassroots level.
“[We have to consider] if we put him into some club rugby to get more confidence, or do we bring him off the bench? It’s all about managing him through that.”
Cane was today named in the All Blacks’ 41-man ‘foundation day’ squad which is set to assemble in Wellington next Monday, and that, combined with his clearance to be involved in contact training, is a major breakthrough for the Chiefs, who have underperformed thus far this season.
They went through their opening five fixtures without a win, including a first-ever loss to the Sunwolves at home, as well as 50-point thrashings at the hands of the Brumbies and Crusaders, but have since salvaged their season with away wins over the Bulls and Jaguares.
Still, they languish in 13th-place with just 12 points to their name, and an important New Zealand derby against an in-form Blues side in Hamilton this week looms as a big test for the former two-time Super Rugby champions.
While Cane remains unavailable for that clash, his return can’t come sooner enough for the Chiefs, as they look to secure a play-offs berth for the eighth season running.
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