You just want Sam Cane to be well.
To live a full and satisfying life once his rugby career is over and to be able to walk and run and play with his children. To tolerate bright lights or loud noise and to suffer no lingering effects from the head and neck trauma he has suffered as a footballer.
I offered some thoughts about Cane’s suitability as All Blacks’ captain recently. Others did too.
There’s a couple of things to point out here. Cane’s toughness and talent are not in question, nor his many qualities as a man. We’d all be very lucky if our sons grew up to be like him.
But it’s also okay to question the appointment of people to high rugby office. You’re not being disrespectful or even unpatriotic to wonder aloud if the best people are being appointed to positions such as All Blacks coach and captain.
We’ve been a bit spoiled as rugby fans in this country. Back in 2007 it was hard to imagine New Zealand would win the two subsequent Rugby World Cups. At least not with Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen on the coaching staff and Richie McCaw as captain.
They’d been seen to fail – and miserably so too – and the expectation was that they wouldn’t be trusted to lead World Cup campaigns again.
The legacy of their subsequent achievements is succession. Succession of coaches and succession of captains.
We’ve done Ian Foster’s appointment as All Blacks coach to death, so let’s linger on the captaincy.
McCaw was truly unique as a player and leader. To keep himself in one piece – and hold his form – over a span of 110 tests as skipper is something we’ll never see again.
We’ve tried, though.
Things resemble a royal family in that respect now. The heir is anointed and then ascends to the throne when the incumbent retires/abdicates.
You can debate whether McCaw’s successor Kieran Read hung around a year or two too long, just as you can express reservations about Cane’s really the man to take the helm now.
How did you feel watching Cane get laid out against the Hurricanes on Saturday night? Did your mind immediately drift towards the head knocks he’s had in the past or the broken neck suffered against South Africa in 2018?
Imagine being his family and friends. Team-mates, coaches. Imagine how they felt on Saturday or, frankly, feel every time he takes the field.
I interviewed former Blues and All Blacks halfback Steve Devine the other day. Man, what a life he and his family have endured since regular concussions forced him into retirement in 2007.
The years of headaches and fatigue and depression took a heavy toll but, thanks to fortnightly botox injections into his head and neck, Devine is starting to recover.
Head trauma doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a big bloke or a small bloke, All Blacks captain or a club player.
We all admire Sam Cane. We respect his playing ability and the way he carries himself. He is the epitome of what we like to think of as the New Zealand rugby man.
But rugby is a contact sport and Cane has a lengthening history of emerging from that contact a little worse for wear. That’s not a failing or a criticism, simply a fact.
You can see why Ian Foster and New Zealand Rugby want Cane to be All Blacks captain. Sadly, you can also see why he might not be suitable.
This isn’t about being kneejerk or alarmist. It’s not a shot at Cane in any way.
It’s just about saying succession-planning isn’t foolproof. That our best intentions or best-laid plans won’t always come to fruition.
Most of all it’s about saying you hope Sam Cane is getting good care and good advice and that the best years of his life are all still ahead of him.
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