Key cog for All Blacks Cane kept in cotton wool
Sam Cane could have been excused if he sneaked off to find a heavy punching bag in Napier yesterday to vent some frustration.
It was hard not to feel a little sorry for the 22-year-old openside as the All Blacks assembled ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship match against Argentina.
That's because around about the same time the All Blacks were being welcomed by 1200 fans at Napier Airport, Cane's Bay of Plenty teammates were preparing to play Taranaki in a national provincial championship match in New Plymouth.
The thought of an extended run of rugby must consume a player who has seen just 40 minutes of action since June, but, unlike 10 of his All Blacks teammates, he was not released for provincial duties.
He'd been hoping for a release after the Bledisloe Cup win over the Wallabies in Auckland.
"I thought, 'keep that out and prepare for the test', but once that was out of the way I was waiting to get the word from Steve [Hansen] and the coaching staff," Cane said.
"But I just have to trust them in what they say. I had a good week's training in Hamilton and got some Ks [kilometres] in the legs. If that's what they say is best then I'm all for it."
Cane has hardly played since he discovered a small fracture in his knee before the test season kicked off in June.
He had 20 minutes before a cut ended his comeback match for the All Blacks during a training match against Northland and North Harbour, 11 minutes during the 12-12 draw with the Wallabies in Sydney, then nine minutes at Eden Park a week later.
His problem is he's become incredibly important to the All Blacks despite his lack of game time.
"We're one loosie down with Jerome [Kaino] out and we didn't want to take the risk of losing another one," Hansen said.
"He's [Cane] fit enough, his testing results are good and he's had a wee bit of rugby with us and we're comfortable with him not playing this week."
With 16 tests already under his belt, Cane won't always be Richie McCaw's back up, but for now he's an insurance policy should one of the world's greatest No 7s go down.
Cane's not the only Bay of Plenty forward growing in importance to the All Blacks on the training field.
Nathan Harris couldn't prevent Bay of Plenty losing 41-3 to Taranaki yesterday, but Hansen confirmed he would take some part in the All Blacks' tour to Argentina and South Africa later this month as a replacement for test incumbent Dane Coles.
"Nathan's going to get an opportunity in South Africa because we are expecting a baby Coles to be born and Dane wants to be there for that birth," Hansen said.
It had yet to be decided whether Coles would travel to Argentina, then return for the birth while the team went on to South Africa, or skip the trip altogether.
Nor had a call been made on whether a third hooker would join Harris and Keven Mealamu should Coles not make the trip.