Questions were raised when Sam Cane was appointed the long-term replacement for Kieran Read as All Blacks captain earlier this year.
Did Cane have the right credentials? Was he experienced enough to lead the All Blacks on a permanent basis? Did his form warrant a starting spot for the New Zealand national side, let alone the captain’s armband?
Whatever questions pundits had about Cane’s form were quickly vanquished as the test season kicked off, with the new captain putting in exceptional performance after exceptional performance.
Cane beat out some strong competition to ultimately be awarded New Zealand’s supreme rugby prize, the Kelvin R Tremain Memorial Player of the Year.
The All Blacks team as a whole didn’t impress quite as much on the park as Cane did, however, with the 2015 and 2019 champions managing just three wins from six matches.
That’s a record that Cane himself has acknowledged is simply not up to standard.
“It was a real rollercoaster in terms of some of the performances,” Cane told the NZ Herald. “There were a couple that were very good and a couple that were very poor. That’s not what we expect from an All Blacks side and it’s not the expectations we put on ourselves to deliver.
“On reflection, I’m never going to say it’s disappointing because from those tough times we’ve learnt a lot as a group and, jeez, I’d rather have a few lessons in these early days than when it comes to the big one.”
The All Blacks’ opening draw against the Wallabies in Wellington was followed by two comfortable wins in Auckland and Sydney. In the final Bledisloe Cup match of the year, however, the All Blacks were ill-disciplined and seemed to lack creativity in Brisbane and went down 24-22.
Many predicted a strong bounce-back from the men in black but instead, the All Blacks suffered their first-ever defeat to Argentina. Cane’s men did finish on a high, however, thumping the Pumas 38-0 in their rematch two weeks later.
All in all, it was a tough year for the All Blacks, a tough year for their supporters and a tough year for the new captain.
Fans on Twitter have been quick to turn on the world champion Springboks after the Pumas historic win over the All Blacks last weekend.https://t.co/qFXVbPvhcj
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 16, 2020
Prior to his permanent appointment in 2020, Cane captained the All Blacks on three previous occasions, against Namibia at the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups, and against Italy in 2016. The 28-year-old has admitted that the full-time experience has perhaps been more challenging that he first anticipated.
“I probably underestimated the intensity of the role,” Cane said. “I’ve done it three times in the past for a week but the ability to be on every single week, driving the team… I’ve been in the leadership group for a wee while but I’ve probably never appreciated what the captain was going through until you’ve got that armband fulltime.
“Everything we had to experience and went through there was never a day where I was thinking ‘I don’t want to be doing this’. I enjoyed the challenge and I enjoyed the rugby year we had.
“If I was sitting there thinking ‘I can’t wait for this season to end’ it would be a bit of a worry.”
Still, despite the hiccups along the way, the All Blacks have completed 2020 with the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations trophies locked up and have blooded some young new talent who will likely become key performers for the NZ national side in years to come. While it’s not been a season to gloat about, the All Blacks will learn from the experience and look to bounce back in an ideally uninterrupted calendar next season.
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