Trust the jester to add some serious perspective. Cory Jane sat outside these All Blacks for a large part of this all-conquering year that now requires just one more tick in the win column to go down as the greatest since the game turned professional - and possibly of all time.
The All Blacks have won all 13 of their tests thus far and need only continue their 108-year domination of Ireland in the early hours of tomorrow to sign off on what may be the most impressive body of work this remarkable team has achieved. Think about it. Four victories over France, three over Australia, two against the Boks and Argentina respectively, and one each over Japan, England and - hopefully - Ireland. That's two straight World Cups in the space of six months. And of those 13, probably 14, victories only two teams lie outside the top five in the world - Japan and potentially Ireland. Just one sits deeper than seventh - those Tokyo terriers.
Jane was able to lend some pretty interesting perspective yesterday when he spoke from the All Blacks' outer Dublin rural retreat. For most of this season the 30-year-old 44-test veteran has been on the outside looking in, mending that wonky knee of his, desperate to work his way back into this special, special team.
Have they ever been deeper? Or better? Or mentally stronger? They've won every which way but loose this year - storming away, coming back, holding on, whatever the challenge, these men of Steve Hansen's have met it. They were part of one of the greatest tests of all time in Johannesburg, and won it when they had no right to. But they have shown an uncanny ability to mix it up in whatever style demanded. With the Aussies it was fast and furious, with the French tough and combative. No matter. These chameleon All Blacks can adapt to whatever they find themselves in.
Jane just had to be part of it again as he trundled away in Wellington, rebuilding the strength in that surgically repaired knee that halted his transcendent career in its tracks. It looked fun, it looked exciting and, besides, with the wings smashing it out of the park, to remain an onlooker risked being left standing slack-jawed with dust in his face.
"I went on a diet and went crazy when I first stopped," said Jane of his road back. "I wouldn't have carbs after lunch. I was just trying to get ripped, well ripped-er. I stopped having fizzy. I'd take my son to MacDonald's after junior rugby and sit there and wouldn't eat. That's how dedicated I was . . . I knew it would help me get back on the field."
Jane's not finished either. He's come back and found himself behind Julian Savea, Ben Smith and Charles Piutau on the wing pecking order. For a guy whose play was near exemplary pre-knee surgery, it's been a dramatic reminder of what happens around the All Blacks when you stand still.
"It made me hungry to get back," he said of his long period of rehab. "There's a special bunch of players and coaches here, and it's cool to come back."
But this is the sort of group Hansen is developing. Jane returns and sees how far everybody has moved forward, how good the new wave of young guns are, how seamlessly the experience and the excitement merge together, and he understands what he's got to do.
"My goal is to show I can still play at this level, then go away and work at the Hurricanes' pre-season camp," Jane said. "Where we normally get two months off, I'll go back and work at things I feel I'm bit behind in. I've shown I can still play test rugby, so that's a tick. Hopefully I'll play well this weekend and build on through the pre-season and come back next year flying."
Jane understands he has a job to do against the Irish. One of seven changes made this week - five discretionary - he has the fresh legs, the sharp mind and the simmering excitement to help these All Blacks stride across the finish line, not collapse before it.
‘A lot of the guys have played a lot of test matches this year; I've played one. So I'm going to play with excitement, and if I need to bring the boys up I'll try to do that with my play."
He will have company. Props Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina, lock Luke Romano and loose forward Steven Luatua also have points to prove. Aaron Cruden, too, with another chance to show there's life after DC.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks will monitor the fitness of left wing Julian Savea at today's captain's run after the in-form wing twisted his knee at the Friday training session. If the 23-year-old can't go, Charles Piutau will get his second injury reprieve of the season.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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