If ever the All Blacks were in danger of a serious wobble a year out from the Rugby World Cup, it was last Sunday against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
After being tripped up by the gallant Springboks a fortnight earlier, the All Blacks selected a pack full of inexperienced and decidedly second tier players in front of a sold out stadium of passionate home fans desperate for a first-ever win over the men in black.
But what we got was a consummate performance from an under pressure side that never looked like losing to the Pumas.
If ever you needed proof that the All Blacks could well field the two best teams in world rugby, this was it.
Without Kieran Reed, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick and Liam Squire, the forward pack was simply magnificent.
At the centre of it all was Sam Cane, who as usual led the ferocious offensive tackling line and showed up around the park to good effect.
The boy from Reporoa was marked as a future All Black ever since he played for the Bay of Plenty at under-14 level. At each step along the path, with the move to Tauranga Boys’ College First XV, NZ Schools, Bay of Plenty Steamers, NZ Under-20s and the Chiefs, it was a matter of when, not if, he would make the ultimate step up to the All Blacks.
Cane made his debut aged 20 in 2012, but had to bide his time as the successor to arguably the greatest openside flanker of all time in Richie McCaw.
It was time well spent. He is a natural leader and trains harder than anyone else, just like McCaw did. When it comes to tackling they share a common philosophy – if it moves, smash it.
Another BOP Steamer, Nathan Harris, joined Cane for the last 20 minutes of the test against Argentina. The replacement hooker is proving to be a reliable late game replacement for Cody Taylor, who has been the form hooker in world rugby in 2018.
Harris and Cane first packed down together in the Bay of Plenty under-14 rep team, and they also had a year together in the Tauranga Boys’ College First XV.
Ironically, the arrival of Cane and Carl Axtens from Reporoa may have unwittingly been the making of Harris as a future All Black, as he was shunted from the loose forwards to hooker to make way for the two NZ Schools reps.
Harris told me last year it was obvious from an early age that Cane would go all the way.
“Even when we played Bay under-14s they were pretty much calling him an All Black then,” he said.
“He is a guy who goes out there and gives 100 per cent every single time in training and both on-and-off the field. He is a great guy to be around and he is always pretty open to take advice or to give it to someone else.”
Bay of Plenty rugby fans look forward to the two former school rep mates continuing to play with such pride in the black jersey.