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'When you slow things down, it looks easy': NZ's fiercest defender talks red cards

By Tom Vinicombe
Sam Cane tackles Ned Hanigan. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The number of red cards in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific competition has already reached record levels but All Blacks captain Sam Cane says the blame lays squarely on the players – even though the new law interpretations require some significant adjustments.

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The likes of Josh Dickson, Nepo Laulala and Scott Barrett have all bent sent off in recent Super Rugby matches while Hurricanes hooker Asafo Aumua received a post-game ban for his dangerous ruck clearout on Gareth Evans from the weekend.

Cane – regarded as one of the fiercest tacklers in New Zealand – is adamant that the referees are doing the right thing, even though it can be difficult for players to make snap judgements in millisecond moments on the field. The new interpretations simply mean players need to err on the side of caution.

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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific.
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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific.

“When you slow things down, it looks easy,” he said this week. “Because there’s such a small margin for error and things happen so quickly, you’ve got to just try and err on the side of caution and control your body height the best you can. Choose which collisions you’re going to really try and dominate and have a crack at, and try and be smart at the other ones.”

While Cane acknowledged that it may still take time for players to adjust, red cards are a necessary evil to reduce potentially dangerous situations emerging. The Chiefs openside flanker reference Barrett’s hit on Blues prop Alex Hodgman, who was removed from this weekend’s game between the Crusaders and the Blues at the time and won’t line up against the Fijian Drua this weekend.

“It’s sometimes easier said than done,” he said. “[But] no one really likes to see the sight of Alex Hodgman and the likes lying flat on the ground.

“[Referees] are doing a good job and players just have to keep adjusting.”

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The Chiefs, at present, are the least penalised team in the competition and have incurred just a solitary yellow card to date. Head coach Clayton McMillan echoed Cane’s sentiments on Wednesday while also reinforcing a message he’d given earlier this month.

“We’ve worked really hard on that element of our game (discipline),” he said. “I think I said a couple of weeks ago we’re not a good enough team at the moment to be able to survive with 14 or 13 men out on the park so you need to be really mindful of your discipline, particularly around your tackle height and your cleans – those areas that some players are getting caught our with for yellow and red cards.

“It’s no surprise. It’s a dynamic game where you’re going to get those moments and you’ve just got to be accurate otherwise you pay a heavy price.”

The Chiefs are set to take on the Waratahs in the opening fixture of this weekend’s Super Round, which will see all five games played in Melbourne.

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