All Blacks' desperate measures for end-of-year tour
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand Sam Cane has revealed the extraordinary options the All Blacks are considering to try and avoid derailing their end-of-year tour to the USA and Europe due to the ongoing threat of Covid-19.
Cane is heading to Washington ahead of the rest of the squad for the October 23 Test with the USA in the inaugural 1874 Cup, a game that leads into matches against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France.
Coupled with their recent Rugby Championship-winning campaign in Australia, it means the All Blacks will have spent three months away from home operating in a bubble by the time they return to New Zealand. That will be at the end of November and everyone on the tour will then have to endure a quarantine period in a hotel before being allowed home.
Cane, who suffered a broken neck in 2018 and has just endured another six months out for shoulder reconstruction, has confirmed that all of the All Blacks tour party are fully vaccinated. However, they must follow strict guidelines for the tour which means endless hours in the various team hotels in the USA, Wales, Italy, Ireland and France.
In an effort to minimise the mental strain on the players, the All Blacks have established an entertainment committee that has already come up with possible ways of trying to normalise their time on tour while still minimising the threat of a positive Covid test.
Cane explained: “We have to be really diligent with sticking to our bubble and even though we are vaccinated, we cannot afford to increase the risk of getting Covid and derailing this tour. Due to competition rules, the format and what we have got ahead of us we just cannot afford to run the risk of anyone in our team contracting Covid because we would be stuck there for two weeks and that would affect the whole tour.
“We are looking at things to minimise those risks as much as possible. We will have to find other ways of getting out as a team and there have been discussions about maybe hiring a rooftop bus (to go sightseeing) or booking out a whole restaurant as a squad and we have created a small entertainment committee who will have a big job ahead of them to accommodate those sort or interests.
“Other than that we will be between the hotel, gym and training field. The hard part is that we are not going to be able to interact with fans as we would normally do but that is how things are at the moment in our camp at the moment. No doubt our All Blacks social media will be actively trying to connect with the fans and give an insight into what we are doing.
“The guys who have been in Australia will have a few things organised and there are five of us coming over to add a bit of energy. We normally have a day off on a Wednesday and it will be about keeping people busy, and we have to be each other’s family and will become super close during this trip. There will be times when guys need their own space but we will do our best.”
Cane, the fit-again All Blacks back-rower, even had to rip up his own plans for spending time in Washington. He had hoped to take in an NFL game, watch some basketball and college football but knows he has to stick to the rules. “The team has been in Australia for close on seven or eight weeks and there are a few of us who have been back in New Zealand and I am joining the squad with Sam Whitelock, Shannon Frizell, Dane Coles and Josh Ford.
“We will be in Washington a few days before the rest of the squad, having watched the Rugby Championship from afar. I was looking forward to watching an NFL game in Washington this weekend but we have to stick to our bubble for the entirety of our trip. We will have to park up in our hotel and watch the NFL game (from there).”
Just making the tour after breaking a bone in his neck and then suffering a serious shoulder injury in March makes his selection and regaining the All Blacks captaincy from Ardie Savea a personal triumph for Cane. The All Blacks’ 31-29 loss to South Africa in their final Rugby Championship match has ensured the squad are totally focussed on the tough tour schedule having seen their ten-game winning run ended.
Cane added: “In the last three years I have had a bit of a bad run with two major surgeries and both of them were very different. When I hurt my neck it was a really unfortunate accident and, believe it or not, the recovery wasn’t too bad physically but there were a few mental hurdles being around the neck. Then I had shoulder reconstruction in early April and it has pretty much been six months.
“I have been really driven to nail the rehab process and get back playing rugby and give myself a shot at playing for the All Blacks again. This tour has been in the back of my mind and a real focus during the rehab which took about six months. It is a real bonus to give myself this chance.”
By Chris Jones, Rugbypass