Kieran Read. Photo by Getty
It was 12 years ago that Richie McCaw sat where Sam Cane
is now, young, unblemished and desperately hoping to make the
right impression on his first All Black tour.
McCaw won't play tomorrow. Instead he will rest a body that
has been ravaged by more physical punishment than any sane
man should take - his once cherub-like face now a maze of
scars, his limbs riddled with gristle and his joints aware,
even if his brain isn't, that osteoarthritis is locked in for
the post-career haul.
A career as an All Black openside will do that to a man -
stress every part of the system, break bits and leave others
Yet on the eve of his second test start, Cane wants that life
more than anything.
"That's the future that I'd love to buy into," he says. "If I
could have a career like he [McCaw] has had, I'd be pretty
pleased. The first step in that is taking my chance and
playing well on Saturday."
It takes a peculiar, or perhaps that should be specific, kind
of person to be drawn to the No7 shirt. There must be
something in the air or in the water in New Zealand - more
than any other rugby nation, it produces opensides with
natural rugby instincts that are supported with
incredible athletic prowess.
Cane, like McCaw and like Josh Kronfeld and Michael Jones
before them, shapes as the perfect package of brain and brawn
and the essential touch of madness that is required to cope
with the maelstrom.
"I think it comes down to a guy's nature and how they are as
people," says Cane of why he's in the brotherhood of the
"You could also argue that props are a little bit different
as well - they just love to push and smash.
"Sevens ... we just love to be involved. We love to get
around the field and be involved with as many things as we
can and go as hard as we can for as long as we can."
Cane may have a touch of the crazies, but there is nothing
crazy, frenzied or wild about the way he plays. He has that
same measured demeanour as McCaw, that same intense focus
only just submerged under an easygoing, smiling facade.
It was the accuracy of Cane that earned him his All Black
call-up. He didn't win much game time with the Chiefs, but he
made the minutes he did play count.
The selectors liked his ability to follow the ball, read the
flow and time his strikes. His ball carrying and tackling
were also impressive.
That patience will be important at the Stadio Olimpico. On
top of everything else, Cane is a realist and he knows, a
six-month sabbatical aside, that McCaw is only rarely going
to vacate his treasured No7 shirt.
Cane has spent much of his rookie All Black year watching
from the stands, sucking in everything, just itching for the
chance to play. Now it has come he has to curb the urgency
and exhale the angst; keep the fire in his blood but insert
ice into the brain.
"The best thing that you can do for the team and to fit in is
to not try to show off," he says. "The best thing is to focus
on your basic role and try to do that well ... which for a
No7 is tackle, cleanout, ball carry and be a bit of a menace
"If you can do those simple things, opportunities will arise
for you to be a support player and to get an offload or
whatever it may be.
"It's simple really, if everyone is doing their role then we
are going to click, so I set a few simple goals before each
game and focus on them.. If you nail those, and the other
guys are nailing theirs, then it's going to be a good day at
- by Gregor Paul in Rome/Herald on Sunday