Exclusive: Cane likely to miss only one week with knee injury

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

“Unseen in the background,” P.G. Wodehouse writes in Very Good, Jeeves!, “Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing-glove.”

Sam Cane sits out the rest of the Force match after being injured in the first half of the Chiefs' win in Hamilton.

If anyone deserves a break right now it’s Sam Cane, the man who broke his neck in the act of making a tackle against the Springboks in 2018, summoned the mental and physical strength to come back from that and return in time for the World Cup a year later, a man too who suffered a serious chest injury last year which put him out for six months, and a man whose latest problem is a knee injury.

Fortunately, the knee problem isn't as bad as feared.

On Tuesday, Cane sent an update to 1News which read: "Luckily it isn't too bad - an MCL tweak. Won't be playing this weekend but a good chance for next."

That will rule him out of the Chiefs' trip to Fiji to play the Drua but he will likely be available for their quarter-final the following weekend - possibly a home game against the Hurricanes.

Cane, destined to be a leader if not the outright captain of the All Blacks as soon as he joined the squad way back in 2012 because of his maturity and willingness to challenge the status quo in the interests of improvement, has had more than his fair share of bad luck - that has become quite clear.

Sam Cane receives medical attention after suffering a knee injury against the Force.

The 30-year-old missed the majority of last year’s season with the Chiefs due to chest surgery, plus all of the Rugby Championship – returning, but not captaining the All Blacks, for last year’s Northern tour.

He may have thought the worst when injury struck him down against the Force in Hamilton last weekend virtually on the eve of the Ireland Test tour of New Zealand in July.

There has been talk about Cane being put under pressure by the form of Blues loose forward and captain Dalton Papalii, but the All Blacks selectors are unlikely to feel the same way.

They will be happy with how Cane has been performing in the knowledge that he generally steps up for the All Blacks – as Richie McCaw did on nearly every occasion regardless of whether he was returning from injury or not – and that he still has plenty to offer in the team environment as captain.

Sam Whitelock during All Blacks training in Dublin last November before the Ireland Test.

However, Papalii’s occasionally inspirational performances for the Blues as they have streaked to 12 consecutive victories this season will give the selectors real comfort that they have the depth to cope with Cane’s absence if required.

And the encouraging thing for the game is that they will likely need that depth against Ireland, who have beaten the All Blacks in two of their last three Tests and will present a challenge in July that New Zealand has not faced in terms of an in-bound tour for a long time.

For the selectors, the sense that Papalii, still only 24, is still improving as a player will be seen as a huge plus, as is the perception that he is a similar player to Cane in terms of his defence and ability to win the ball in the tackle.

Papalii may not make the same front-on tackle impact that Cane does but he perhaps offers a little more on attack – certainly he plays a wider role there for the Blues and looks comfortable doing it.

Dalton Papalii claims a lineout for the Blues against the Rebels at Eden Park last weekend.

He would be a like-for-like replacement in the No.7 jersey. The bigger selection call may be, if Ardie Savea stays in the No.8 jersey, who will play blindside flanker, a position yet to be cemented by anyone under Ian Foster, and I would be inclined to give it to Ethan Blackadder, recently named as the Crusaders' player of the year, for his utter relentlessness and willingness to work himself into the ground, if nothing else.

And the so-called captaincy debate, if required, won’t amount to much within the camp. Sam Whitelock led the All Blacks on last year’s Northern tour as Cane slowly made his way back to match fitness, and, given the top job was a toss-up between himself and Cane in the first place, will likely to do again against Ireland in July if necessary.

Savea led the All Blacks during last year’s Rugby Championship when Whitelock was unavailable but doesn’t appear as comfortable with the responsibility as his Crusaders rival.

Whitelock, 33, perhaps surprised at how naturally he took to the captaincy of the Crusaders after replacing Kieran Read; he thrived on it and more than that appeared inspired by it.

With Savea it appears an extra job and one he doesn’t necessarily need.

As for Cane, he just needed a little bit of luck and it looks like he has received it.

All going well, he'll run out on to Eden Park against Ireland on July 2 in the No.7 jersey seeking to continue a destiny which began against the same opposition in Christchurch almost exactly 10 years ago.