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'Not a popularity contest’: Cane hurt by All Blacks scrutiny, says Foster

Author
Alex Powell,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 May 2024, 5:47pm
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

'Not a popularity contest’: Cane hurt by All Blacks scrutiny, says Foster

Author
Alex Powell,
Publish Date
Mon, 13 May 2024, 5:47pm

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Former All Blacks coach Ian Foster has opened up on how Sam Cane dealt with the scrutiny of being captain of the national side, following his decision to retire from the test arena after 2024.

On Monday, Cane dropped a bombshell that he will take up a three-year deal in Japan from 2025, and end his time as an All Black at the end of the season.

What's more, the 32-year-old has also conceded he will not be captain of the All Blacks this year, as new coach Scott Robertson looks to take the side in a new direction.

Having been part of the All Blacks since he was 20, Cane's contribution to the team is often overlooked. Of the 95 tests he has played so far, he led the All Blacks in 27 of them, including to last year's Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa.

That final will forever be tainted by Cane being shown a red card after a mistimed tackle saw his shoulder make contact with the head of Jesse Kriel. Speaking after the final, Cane said: "It is something I am going to have to live with forever."

In 2018, he broke his neck in a victory against the Springboks and has been hit by consistent injury issues ever since.

However, with 15 tests to play this year, and a very real prospect of becoming the 13th All Black to reach a century of caps, Cane has at the very least ensured he'll end his test career on his terms.

After taking over as coach of the All Blacks in 2020, Foster decided made the decision to name Cane as his captain.

And speaking to Newstalk ZB's Jason Pine, the former coach made no secret of his admiration for his skipper.

"It's nice to talk about a player I've got massive regard for," said Foster. "Sam's put a lot into the jersey. He's obviously made this decision about his future."

"He should be very proud of his career."

Despite what he's given to the All Blacks, though, Cane's time as captain did not go without criticism.

In mid-2023, he came under fire for trying to trip a pitch invader while playing away in Argentina.
Cane was also at the helm of the All Blacks a year earlier as Ireland took a famous 2-1 series victory in New Zealand, their first on Kiwi soil.

That series' deciding test saw Cane ridiculed by Ireland loose forward Peter O'Mahony, who called him a "s*** Richie McCaw" as criticism of his playing ability. Cane, though, got the last laugh with a man-of-the-match performance as the All Blacks eliminated Ireland from the 2023 World Cup at the quarter-final stage.

In 2022, English pundit Stuart Barnes said Cane wasn't good enough to play for Italy. Foster, though, takes issue with the nature of some of the criticisms that came Cane's way.

"There's times that it hurt him, I think he's expressed that," he continued. "There were times he was a bit bewildered by it."

"There's times where it's almost double standards in some ways. Not all All Blacks are outstanding in every single Super Rugby game and Super Rugby campaign."

"I remember watching Richie and Dan [Carter] sometimes in their Super Rugby campaigns. They were giving it everything but not quite playing at the right standard."

"It seemed to be that whenever Sam had a few rough games, there were certain sectors that would climb into him."

"He knew what the job entailed when he signed up for it. It's not a popularity contest, you're going to get criticised if things don't seem to go that well."

"His strength came from his family, and the relationship with the leaders around him."

"That's where he went to under pressure."

Regardless of how he performed on the field, Cane was always going to struggle under the weight of expectation to succeed McCaw in the No 7 jersey.

From the age of 20, Cane was anointed by Sir Steve Hansen as the All Blacks' next openside flanker and has held the role ever since - when fit.

Firstly as coach of the Chiefs, and then with the All Blacks, Foster has had a front-row seat to see Cane develop as a player and a leader.

And asked about how succeeding McCaw affected Cane, Foster said he handled it as well as any player could have.

"It can be a massive burden that, can't it," he said, "when you're seen as being the person who's got to fill the boots of someone."

"Let's face it, there's probably no bigger boots than Richie's. But I thought Sam did it really well."

"He stayed true to himself. He didn't try to be anyone else other than Sam Cane."

"He made sure he grew the things and focused on the strengths of his game. He dealt with the ups and downs the way he deals with stuff."

"It's a real lesson; you can't be anyone else on the rugby park. You've got to be authentic and play the game that you know you're capable of and you love playing."

"He did that."

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