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Why Sam Cane won't wear the No 7 jersey

By Tom Vinicombe
Luke Jacobson and Sam Cane. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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After two weeks on the sidelines, Sam Cane will make his return for the Chiefs when they square off against the Crusaders in Christchurch this weekend. Cane hasn’t been named in the starting side for the semi-final showdown, however, instead lining up on the bench.

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According to head coach Clayton McMillan, that’s just rewards for the loose forward trio who have done the business in the Chiefs’ last two wins of the Fijian Drua and Waratahs.

“[That’s about] a bit of continuity,” McMillan said after naming his side for Friday’s fixture. “The loose forward trio have been out there in the last couple of weeks and make a pretty good fist of their opportunities.”

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Picking an All Blacks squad to take on Ireland.
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Said trio includes Samipeni Finau, Luke Jacobson and Pita Gus Sowakula.

Finau, the least experienced of the bunch, only made his Super Rugby debut last year and was somewhat of a surprise selection in the No 6 jersey for the opening game of the 2021 campaign alongside Cane and Jacobson, having not been named in the initial squad for the year. The Waikato utility forward went on to make five more appearances throughout the season, earning starts at both lock and flanker. This year, Finau has added 11 more appearances to his name and has been both a punishing defender and a damaging ball-carrier for the Chiefs.

Jacobson, meanwhile, started the season as the Chiefs’ first-choice blindside flanker but spent seven weeks on the sidelines due to injury before returning in April to take back the No 6 jersey. In the weeks since, the 25-year-old has flitted between the three loose forward roles and had has added another string to his bow by clocking up appearances at openside flanker – something of which the All Blacks selectors will no doubt be taking notice.

Sowakula was a huge performer in the early days of 2022 but perhaps hasn’t quite replicated that impressive form in recent times and, like his two loose forward partners, has slotted into both the No 6 and No 8 jerseys. The big Fijian will be looking to give his chances of national selection one final push against a well-drilled Crusaders side this weekend, with an injury to Ethan Blackadder perhaps opening the door for one more loose forward to earn themselves a call-up to the All Blacks.

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With Cane only confirming his injury-free status at Wednesday’s training, McMillan wanted to ensure the starting trio was cemented early in the week – and Cane’s return now adds some significant experience on the bench, although there’s no set time when McMillan intends to reintroduce the All Blacks captain.

“Sam had to get through today’s training to actually be able to play,” the Chiefs head coach said. “We felt it was better to bring him off the bench and give the guys that were starting some certainty to prepare for the game.

“With all our reserves, we never make any preconceived decisions around replacements. It’s really how the game’s flowing. It would be nice if it was later rather than sooner but we’ll see on the night.”

In Cane’s absence, Brad Weber has taken over as the sole captain on the field for the Chiefs but the two experienced heads will return to sharing the duties this week, with Cane’s injection likely to coincide with his co-captains departure from the fray.

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“Whether Sam’s in the match-day 23 or not even playing, he’s still our co-captain,” said McMillan. “It’s just kind of normal for us to continue our weeks and it’s not a case of ‘if you’re out one week, you sit on the sidelines and don’t add anything’.

“Those guys are leading from the front irrespective of if they’re in the match-day 23 so that will be a pretty seamless transition, I think. It might coincide with Brad coming off at some stage later in the game, which normally happens for a 9. That means we have another leader out on the field.”

Friday night’s semi-final between the Chiefs and Crusaders is set to kick off at 7:05pm (NZT) from Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

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