'It was probably the most challenging time of my rugby career'
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: A year after breaking his neck, All Black Sam Cane has put the near-paralysing injury to the back of his mind as he prepares to get his World Cup back on track against Namibia.
After a false start in the opening game against South Africa – when he was not allowed back on the field after a head knock assessment due to timekeeper confusion – Cane declared himself raring to go against Namibia on Sunday.
“I’ve only got 40 minutes under my belt so pretty keen,” Cane said Friday as the All Blacks returned to Tokyo a day after beating Canada in the southern city of Oita.
Head knocks and even broken necks are occupational hazards in the bruising world of an openside flank and the 27-year-old never doubted he would return to rugby.
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“I knew it was probably the most challenging time of my rugby career, but it helped me appreciate the people in my life who helped me get through it,” said Cane.
“It helped me appreciate how much I actually love rugby and how much I missed it and couldn’t wait to get back playing,” he said.
“But it’s in the past now. I’ve got plenty of rugby under my belt since then. Yeah, heaps of confidence in my neck and my body.”
Cane suffered the injury after colliding with Springboks loose forward Francois Louw in Pretoria last October.
Doctors said the fracture was only a few millimetres from the flank never being able to walk again.
“As bad as the injury was… in a funny way I felt pretty lucky because it could have been a lot worse,” he said.
After surgery, he underwent seven months of rehabilitation before he resumed playing and rapidly rebuilt his match fitness to make the All Blacks World Cup squad.
“When you get through tough times, you like to think you come out the other end a wee bit stronger,” Cane said.
“Structurally, my neck’s definitely stronger. I’ve got two vertebrae that are fused together so it’s stronger than it was.”
Cane considers himself “older and wiser” now than when he first played Namibia at the 2015 World Cup and was surprisingly handed the captaincy.
“I was a 23-year-old with about 30 test caps to my name. Four years on, four years older, I’m a lot more comfortable in myself and my playing ability,” he said.
“I got handed a leadership role that day which was a real shock but four years on, I’m a lot more comfortable in my own leadership style.”