Skipper Cane on personal pressure: 'It's impossible not to feel it'

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

All Blacks captain Sam Cane has spoken of the pressure he is under during these turbulent times for his side and New Zealand Rugby in general, saying he is trying to turn the weight of expectation into a positive.

Sam Cane, pictured during the defeat to the Boks at Mbombele Stadium, says he can't fault the effort from his teammates.

That the All Blacks hardly fired an attacking shot during their 26-10 first Test defeat to the Springboks at Mbombele Stadium has ramped up the scrutiny even further on Cane and head coach Ian Foster, ahead of the steep challenge of playing South Africa at Ellis Park on Sunday morning NZT.

For many fans it was more tangible evidence of a team in decline after the historic series defeat to Ireland. Another is the team’s descent to No.5 on the world rankings behind Ireland, France, South Africa and England.

Another defeat on the high veld will probably make Foster’s position untenable, but Cane hasn’t been immune from criticism within New Zealand or abroad either and he addressed the challenge of trying to deal with that after the team trained in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Read more: Mo'unga: ABs' failure to cope with Boks' pressure 'a bit of an uppercut'

“You certainly feel it, it’s impossible not to,” Cane said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. It’s always been part of being an All Black, pressure. But without a doubt it’s extra pressure. You can look at it as a burden or embrace it and see it as an extra challenge… and use it as a positive, as funny as that sounds.”

Cane, repeating Foster’s optimism after the defeat last Sunday, maintained the All Blacks aren’t far away from clicking and vehemently denied his side had a virtual “free swing” at the Boks as they now had little to lose.

That was also an idea raised by former All Black Mils Muliaina in his position as a pundit on the Sky Sports Breakdown show on Monday – that Foster should be “brave” with his selections and plan more for the future in terms of developing players than the here and now.

Beauden Barrett leaps in an attempt to receive another high kick against the Boks.

Cane gave that short shrift, however.

“I’m not seeing it that way at all,” he said. “There’s a trophy on the line. We’re playing at Ellis Park and we’re desperate to improve and put out better performances than we are. There’s as much on the line as there’s ever been.”

Given the paucity of the All Blacks’ attacking imagination in the first Test, the Boks didn’t have to extend themselves much behind kicking the ball high into the air or scrummaging for penalties, and Cane was expecting the home side to go down the same route at what will be a seething cauldron of more than 60,000 mainly South Africa supporters.

“I think there were 15-odd contestable kicks and we only took five of them,” he said.

“After their success in that area I’d expect them to keep going there. They had good success at the breakdown so we expect them to roll out a lot of the same stuff but it would be little naïve [to think] they weren’t looking for other opportunities. They would have seen some stuff on the tape to exploit us in different areas.”

Read more: All Blacks officially drop to record low in world rankings

The scrum was a platform on which the Boks exerted early pressure – for the fourth time in succession this year the All Blacks conceded the first try – with the visitors conceding a free kick at the set piece and then a penalty to help the home side on their way.

“There’s no way we want to be starting like that,” he said.

And yet, Cane rang a positive note when he spoke of the work behind the scenes which had bolstered belief as well as skill levels, presumably.

“We’re obviously unhappy with the results side of things but it’s not through lack of trying or effort. It’s a good camp to be involved in because of the attitude. I couldn’t ask for anything more in that regard. The frustrating part is that it’s not quite translating on to the field yet."

He also gave a positive update on outside back Will Jordan, who missed a recent training session due to a stomach complaint but was back in the gym and expected to be available.

Jordan, used as a right wing this year, may move to fullback for Sunday due to Jordie Barrett’s ankle injury and brother Beauden’s neck issue – suffered after being dumped on his head late in the first Test by Kurt-Lee Arendse’s mid-air challenge.

“Speaking on behalf of everyone - it was pretty frightening, it was nasty, it’s almost as bad as it gets,” Cane said of Arendse's reckless act, for which he was banned for four weeks.

“I don’t know what Beaudy is made of – a rubber band man – I know it gave him a fright as well. I know Jordie had a bit of trouble with the ankle but they’re tough boys.”