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FEATURE Where does Sam Cane go from here?

Where does Sam Cane go from here?
7 months ago

If Sam Cane’s time in the black jersey had already come to an end, what legacy would he leave behind?

The 31-year-old debuted for New Zealand in the 2012 Ireland series, alongside the likes of Brodie Retallick, Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett.

Those four all played pivotal roles in the All Blacks claiming a World Cup title in 2015 and, at one stage or another, were widely considered the best in their positions in the world.

Sam Whitelock
Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett all made their All Blacks debuts within the space of two weeks – and will all head to Japan for the 2024 season. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

With Richie McCaw leading the charge as captain and openside flanker for NZ throughout that World Cup cycle, Cane played a considerably more bit-part role than some of his compatriots but was expected to take the reins from McCaw the following season.

The four years following weren’t quite as fortuitous for the All Blacks, thanks in part to the likes of McCaw, Daniel Carter and Ma’a Nonu all retiring following the success in 2015. While Cane was instilled as the side’s first-choice No 7 throughout the period, he (unsurprisingly) struggled to live up to the standards set by the man preceding him and when push came to shove in the 2019 semi-final face-off with England, Cane was dropped to the bench in favour of shifting Scott Barrett  to the blindside flank and Ardie Savea to the openside.

With Ian Foster taking over as coach in 2020, Cane was named captain of the All Blacks and delivered plenty of stirring performances for his nation, but he has also had to content with a number of frustrating injuries over the past four seasons– something which also plagued his career in the earlier years.

By the time the knock-out stages of the World Cup rolled around last month, however, Cane was injury-free and gearing up for a big three weeks with New Zealand.

When push came to shove in the 2019 semi-final face-off with England, Cane was dropped to the bench.

Against Ireland in the quarter-finals, the gritty openside flanker was one of the best players on the park, contributing 22 tackles and two turnovers in a defensive masterclass for the ages. Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony’s sledge from the prior season, that Cane was just a “shit Richie McCaw”, had come back to bite the Irish with a vengeance.

In a more free flowing match against Argentina the following week, Cane’s defensive prowess was somewhat less crucial than in the quarter-final, with the Al Blacks captain contributing ‘just’ 14 tackles in a strong 65-minute performance.

It was in the grand final that Cane was supposed to really assert his physicality in the tackle and at the breakdown and silence the many naysayers from throughout his career. While Cane had never quite emerged from the long shadow cast by Richie McCaw, he was always a strong performer in black and New Zealand operated far better with Cane wearing the No 7 jersey than any of his rivals over the past eight seasons. But it was time for the All Blacks captain to convert even his harshest critics with World Cup gold within reach.

It wasn’t to be, of course. A red card shortly before halftime ended Cane’s hopes of a fairytale finish and all but ended New Zealand’s chances of a fourth World Cup title.

Sam Cane
Sam Cane of New Zealand looks on as he walks past the The Webb Ellis Cup following the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Ramos – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

“Just so much hurt right now,” Cane said when asked to explain his emotions following the match. “It’s actually hard to find words to explain it. It’s so, so hard … Unfortunately it is something I am going to have to live with forever.”

The send-off marked the second time in 12 months that Cane had spent time on the sidelines during a final, with the Chiefs captain also receiving a yellow card against the Crusaders in late June. Like the All Blacks, the Chiefs had gone into that match as favourites and like the All Blacks, the Chiefs came away with nothing to show for it.

Sam Cane isn’t done with New Zealand Rugby just yet, having signed a contract extension late in 2021 which will see him remain on NZ’s shores until 2025. But what does the future look like for the current All Blacks captain?

Cane has a sabbatical option built into his contract for the beginning of 2024 which he would have no doubt been looking to exercise if everything had gone to plan at the World Cup but he might have slight reservations around taking time off from rugby in New Zealand given how things have unfolded in the past month.

The send-off marked the second time in 12 months that Cane had spent time on the sidelines during a final.

The 31-year-old is probably in need of a mental break away from the game but it’s likely Cane will want to get straight back on the horse, so to speak, and try to vanquish the demons of the World Cup final as quickly as possible.

Cane is rumoured to be heading to the Tokyo Sungoliath where he will play alongside the likes of Sean McMahon, Gareth Anscombe, Cheslin Kolbe and Kotao Matushima, but you have to wonder whether he might be better off tackling another pre-season for the Chiefs.

Scott Robertson is set to take over as All Blacks coach next year and there are no guarantees that Cane will be Robertson’s first-choice openside flanker, let alone captain. Ardie Savea (also on sabbatical) and Dalton Papali’i could both be preferred, with the latter a near certainty to make the next World Cup in 2027.

It won’t necessarily be a case of out of sight, out of mind for Cane if he does head to Japan, but it’s unlikely that Robertson will be watching every game played by the Sungoliath next year, whereas he would be tuning in to every single Chiefs fixture as he scours the country for talent.

Sam Cane could be set to follow in the footsteps of Chiefs and All Blacks teammate Damian McKenzie and represent the Tokyo Sungoliath. (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

With 95 Test appearances to his name, Cane is very much in sight of centurion status and the current All Blacks captain won’t want to jeopardise his chances of etching his name into the history books alongside the likes of McCaw, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock. Perhaps even more importantly, he won’t want his final memories in a black jersey to be watching his undermanned troops fall at the final hurdle to South Africa in a World Cup final.

Make no mistake, Sam Cane has been an excellent All Black – his value on the park was on full display when he delivered another barnstorming performance against a bloodthirsty Ireland side in the World Cup quarter-finals – but it still feels like we haven’t quite seen the best from the man from Reporoa

“I think we’ve all seen the way Sam has contributed to the game, our team behind the scenes,” Foster said last week. “He’s been fantastic, worthy of being captain of the All Blacks, which is a fantastic honour and a privilege and I think he’s carried that magnificently well and I am incredibly proud of him. I am incredibly proud to coach him.”

Comments

30 Comments
J
Jon 229 days ago

Japan?

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Dr A 231 days ago

If you have me driving Lewis Hamilton’s Merc, there will only be one outcome and it is most certainly the portaloo not the podium. Ill be taking the portaloo out at 300mph.

Likewise, the story of Sam Cane, the heir that never was, there are literal galaxies between him and McCaw, yet Cane was somehow, some type of ‘understudy’. He never was.

Peter summed up all our thoughts in one hit. Though Peter too will now mow lawns wondering.

Lesson 1 to NZRU, jobs for the boys will only enable substandard groupthink principles into the fold and Foster was this, stuck in hole smelling the same cheese for 15 years as a tea lady then gaffer with zero notable achievements.

Lesson 2 to NZRU, appointing the ‘right face’ for marketing purposes aka Cane would always end up in the way it did and it could not end in a more worse way for Cane with what happened in the final, why? He should never, ever have been there.

I shall join Peter on lawn mowing detail (with my 3 world cups though).

😀

B
Bob Marler 233 days ago

Give Cane and others a break and get talented youngsters in over the next 2 years. Anyone anywhere in the world worthy of the black jersey should be in the squad in 2025 and 2026.

Change selection policy by 2025 to open that pool to overseas based players earning Euros and Pounds. Let them sharpen up in the European cups while the youngsters cut their teeth back home and in SR. Everyone wins.

Basically, copy what SA did NZ and don’t be shy about it. You’ll be unstoppable if you do, stagnant if you don’t.

S
Shayne 234 days ago

What a lode of rubbish, it's crap like this that has helped prop up Foster’s last 4 years. Reminds me of the story of the emperor with no clothes on.I feel sorry for Cane to many knocks, their are at least 4 open siders in NZ better than him .I hope Reiko goes overseas too.

C
Charlie 234 days ago

So the All Blacks has launch appeal in their final with Springbok, just wondering what are they expecting the outcome of that appeal would be? A reply? Or hand the Cup to them? I reckoned they’re bad losers, probably they got advice from Tom Curry

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Ramon 234 days ago

He looks like a guy that needs a mental break. Good on him, should come back refreshed like D Mac

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Jon 234 days ago

Cane has a sabbatical option built into his contract for the beginning of 2024 which he would have no doubt been looking to exercise if everything had gone to plan at the World Cup but he might have slight reservations around taking time off from rugby in New Zealand given how things have unfolded in the past month.
Unfortunately you just missed it the timing of this article Tom. He has taken up that contract and I can only believe he has given up on the dream. At least so soon after that loss. I had the same thoughts as these though, get back on that horse, win Super Rugby, win that starting jersey for the All Blacks, and take a series win over South Africa at home, and have a good break after that. He’s deserved what every outcome he wants though. Was very depressing the clip Steven Donald did where he said it was the worst experience being in New Zealand before he got his chance to turn his story around in the 2011 World Cup. I hope Cane can still be given such a chance in the Rugby Championship next year but it is hard to see with so many good players having been on his heels for a long time now.
Really hoping NZR and SARU can organise a third game next year.

f
frandinand 234 days ago

Once again Vinicombe makes a very bold prediction with no evidence to sustain it. God knows who will be playing at number 7 in 4 years time.

Ardie Savea (also on sabbatical) and Dalton Papali’i could both be preferred, with the latter a near certainty to make the next World Cup in 2027.

j
johnz 234 days ago

Nah he won’t be captain. He’s Foster’s boy and carries too much baggage from what was ultimately a fairly unsuccessful reign. He’ll be no spring chicken by the time the next WC comes about, there might be others with more upside.

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Pecos 234 days ago

Yes, true, Cane didn’t have a “pivotal” role at RWC2015, 11 mins v France in 1/4s, 13 mins v Boks in semis (where he promptly dropped a sitter pass from SBW with a try beckoning) & 1 min v Wallabies in final to allow a Richie McCaw standing ovation departure. Not much has changed since then.

For me Cane's main issue with captaincy has been his absence through injury for nearly half of the 46 tests under Foster. It’s impossible to build a constant & consistent onfield leadership model over time if you’re not there. Nevermind filling McCaw’s unfillable boots, Cane couldn’t even fill his own half the time.

A great number #7 when available & injury free but we never saw it peak until the Ireland 1/4 final. Cane wasn’t ONE of the best on the paddock, he was THE best by far in my opinion, especially as skipper. The sight of him getting alongside Frizzell after his stupid penalty was a great moment. Unfortunately such test performances by Cane were the exception not the benchmark.

I think Razor will go for World Rugby POTY Ardie for skipper, & Cane will be left to compete for #7, subject to availability. Scooter will also be in the mix for skipper. Both he & Ardie will be 33 at the start of RWC2027.

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