Reporoa youngster Sam Cane was pinching himself yet again today as his whirlwind loose forward career soared to new heights with his naming as a test starter for the All Blacks.
Cane, 20, couldn't believe it when he was named in a pre-season wider training group for the All Blacks on the back of limited starts for the Super Rugby competition-leading Chiefs this season.
That was followed by his naming in the squad proper for the current three-test series against Ireland and then a place on the bench and 40 minutes game time against Ireland in last weekend's second test in Christchurch.
Now he will wear the coveted No7 jersey against the same opposition in Saturday night's third test in Hamilton as part of a new-look starting loose forward trio for his first test start as one of six changes to the New Zealand starting XV.
"It's all happened pretty quickly hasn't it and I'm definitely pinching myself a little bit but as I said last week you've just got to take it in your stride and perform well," Cane said.
Cane will have All Blacks skipper and incumbent openside flanker Richie McCaw, who on Saturday will become just the third forward in world rugby to start 100 tests, alongside him at No8 to give him a guiding hand, along with one of his mentors at the Chiefs, blindside flanker Liam Messam.
McCaw has got alongside the youngster since the latter's involvement in the All Blacks setup and Cane has been eager to learn.
"He's been helpful, for sure. It's just the small things and just picking things up at training and I ask questions if I'm unsure about anything.
"He's always more than happy to help me out and give me a good answer."
The young man who made his Chiefs debut two years ago as an 18-year-old before he had even represented Bay of Plenty in the ITM Cup could just as easily have been in South Africa with the New Zealand Under-20 side right now for his second tilt at the IRB Junior World Championship. He is still eligible for that age group, having only turned 20 in January, but he has always been marked for greater things.
Against the Irish at AMI Stadium, Cane got a taste of just how physical international rugby is and admitted he was sore for a couple of days afterwards.
The visitors have been impressive with their physicality and presence over the ball at the breakdowns and the onus will be on Cane and co to combat that and impose themselves on the tackle area and get some steals of their own.
"If the opportunity's there I'll be taking it but you always have to read it to see if it's on or not. If they are there I definitely will."
As for the pressure of starting a test, the young 104kg, 1.89 metre loosie appears to be taking it in his stride.
"I guess there's always pressure if you are playing in the All Black jersey, we expect to win every test and so does the public.
"[Ireland] showed last week what a good side they are so they'll be really looking to go home with a good performance and we just need to match that," Cane said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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