Sam Cane shrugs off criticism as Boks great fires shots

Publish Date
Wednesday, 3 August 2022, 8:56AM

By Liam Napier in South Africa

From the outside looking in the All Blacks have a daunting list of weaknesses to amend in an extremely challenging timeframe. Their stuttering starts, defence, lineout, attack, maul and breakdown all require urgent attention before confronting the Springboks this weekend.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane, however, believes there is more than meets the eye and that, in fact, with a few minor adjustments, the struggles laid bare by the 2-1 home series defeat to Ireland can be swiftly overcome.

Nestled in at the Ingwenyama Resort in White River, on the outskirts of Nelspruit, scene for the first test on Sunday morning (NZT), the All Blacks resumed where they left a two-day camp in Wellington last week by continuing to target specific deficiencies such as their maul defence and breakdown work – two areas they know the Boks pack will attack them with typical ferocity.

While many aspects of the All Blacks game appears in need of evolution, attempting to pick everything apart now, on the eve of successive tests against the Boks in South Africa, risks leaving individuals cluttered and potentially further undermine fragile confidence in the heat of battle.

Despite the All Blacks losing four of their past five tests, Cane maintains significant improvements do not demand a drastic overhaul.

"It's important that we don't focus on all these things that are going wrong because the truth is there's not heaps of things going wrong," Cane said after the All Blacks finished their first fully-fledged training session of the week on Tuesday.

"We've got a couple of really clear focuses. Often when you get the big rocks of the forward pack right a lot of the other issues sort themselves out."

Cane has been impressed by Jason Ryan's addition to replace John Plumtree as All Blacks forwards coach, suggesting the Crusaders guru had made an immediate impact on the exposed maul defence against Ireland.

"Jason has been outstanding," Cane said. "He's come in, taken control and found his feet straight away. He's clearly very knowledgeable and knows what he wants out of our forward pack. I feel like we've made some good strides in the last couple of days already.

"With the top teams there's small margins between games. The last game we lost by 10 but we let in two rolling maul tries which is something as an All Blacks forward pack we don't see as acceptable. That's one big rock we've sorted out. There is actually a lot of stuff we're doing well so we focus on that as well instead of always drilling down on what's not going well.

"We know what we're going to get when we play the Springboks; a confrontational, physical battle. Looking at the footage there's big men coming round the corner; running hard, cleaning hard and then some of the skill and speed in the midfield and outside backs is right up there with the best in the world. They're the full package."

On a personal level Cane, alongside All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, is a lightning rod for constant criticism.

Former Springboks captain Victor Matfield was the latest to probe Cane's form and the loose forward balance, saying he wasn't sure the skipper was "up to it at the moment – in terms of getting over the ball, stealing the ball, slowing it down" while questioning the All Blacks defensive abilities.

Cane continues to block out such comments but he did concede, following the changes to the All Blacks coaching staff, that the players had assumed their share of responsibility and acknowledged the need to lead the response.

"The best thing I've found is not to engage in any articles or read stuff online and focus on your close friends and team-mates. As long as they've got your back; they believe in you and you believe in yourself then you're in a pretty good spot.

"It's probably harder sometimes on friends and family but I've been all good. When we come in and get into our work it's almost like we're in our own little bubble.

"Whenever you don't get a result you look yourself in the mirror and see how you fronted up. There's been a few tweaks within the coaching staff which will hopefully help but, without doubt, a few of us need to be stepping up on the field in the big moments.

"We knew a long time ago how tough the first five matches of this year were going to be but the whole time it was exciting. I've never in my time had back-to-back test matches in South Africa so it's unique. Being an All Black, you love times that really challenge you and this is certainly one of those."

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission