WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All Blacks flanker Sam Cane sat out the final training run for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash with Australia and while the world champions expect him to take the field at Eden Park his absence highlighted a lack of test-level depth at the position.
After last week’s 38-13 win in Sydney, victory for the All Blacks would see them retain the trophy for a 15th successive season after winning it from the Wallabies in 2003.
Cane sat out the session on Friday after picking up a knee injury the previous day but captain Kieran Read told reporters the decision was purely a precaution.
“It’s just precautionary and he’s having a day off today,” Read said. “At the moment he’s still good to go.”
The injury, however, highlighted a wider concern for Steve Hansen’s side, with Ardie Savea the only other specialist openside flanker in the squad.
Savea would likely start if Cane is ruled out, with blindside flanker Shannon Frizell expected to move onto the bench but there is some doubt as to who would be called into the side if the flanker was out for any length of time.
Canterbury Crusaders’ Matt Todd is the only other specialist number seven in New Zealand with test experience, but was overlooked for the squad after he took up a short-term contract in Japan.
Otago Highlanders’ Dillon Hunt played a non-test match against a French XV on last year’s end-of-season tour while Wellington Hurricanes’ Gareth Evans impressed in Super Rugby this year and was mentioned as a potential dark-horse pick for the Rugby Championship squad.
The issues with Cane aside, Read said the All Blacks had to be wary of a Wallabies backlash after the barrage of criticism they faced this week in the wake of the Sydney defeat.
“Every week we need to (be prepared), and especially against a team that’s coming off a loss,” Read said.
“We know the challenge, we’ve focused on that quite heavily, but more on us. We have to get our performance right.
“If we get that right hopefully it will dictate things on the scoreboard.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)