On election day in New Zealand, All Blacks skipper Sam Cane offered his best politics-inspired poker face.
With the All Blacks under pressure in the Bledisloe Cup series after a drawn first test in Wellington, Cane gave away very little in the lead-up to Sunday’s second test at Eden Park in Auckland.
He showed good footwork to dodge some inappropriate questions about his political allegiances and was equally deft at side-stepping queries around the All Blacks’ Eden Park dominance.
With two tests to follow in Australia, the All Blacks are staring at a potential loss of the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in 17 years.
In what is now effectively a three-test series the pressure is firmly on the home side to win on Sunday.
Luckily for New Zealand they are playing at their favourite ground, where they have been unbeaten for 26 years and where they have not lost to Australia since 1986.
Not that you would know it from Cane’s assessment.
“When it comes to the ground it’s just the same size field as everywhere – there’s no trade secrets to it,” Cane said.
“At the end of the day it’s just another field with a pretty awesome stadium around it, but yeah it’s good to be here.”
Cane could be forgiven for being on guard after his former coach Graham Henry lobbed a grenade in to the camp by suggesting New Zealand Rugby had erred in not securing the services of Dave Rennie, who has made an immediate impact with the Wallabies.
“We stuffed up quite frankly because he is a quality person and a quality coach and you’ve seen it straight away with the Wallabies,” Henry told an audience at the Wairarapa Bush Sports Awards on Friday night.
“Dave Rennie is a fabulous coach, no doubt. New Zealand Rugby cocked that up.”
Former All Blacks head coach Sir Graham Henry says New Zealand Rugby made a mistake in allowing Dave Rennie to work with the Wallabies.https://t.co/xc783dUMSv
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 16, 2020
The drawn first Test did not lessen debate in New Zealand over whether long-serving assistant Ian Foster is the right man for the head coach role and Henry’s comments will only focus the spotlight on the new coach.
Cane acknowledged there was “lots of pressure on, but there was lots on last week too”.
He said the All Blacks had learned from last week’s 16-16 draw.
“I wouldn’t say we’re more confident, but we’ve got another week of preparation under our belt,” he said.
“We know where we stand after last week and we know where we need to better.
“We’ve had clear focus on areas we need to improve on so hopefully we’ll see that out there tomorrow.
“We can make some real shifts in our carry and clean-out work. We can get off the line a bit quicker and belt them there too.
“That’s test match footy in a nutshell – physicality and intensity, and that’s where we have to deliver.”
The All Blacks had another injury setback on the eve of the test, with flyer Rieko Ioane in doubt with a hamstring strain.
Ioane was dropped to the bench after a poor performance in the first test and is now in danger of not getting a chance to atone for his botched try-scoring effort just before halftime in Wellington.
Wellington’s Peter Umaga-Jensen has been called into the team as cover.
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