All Blacks flanker Sam Cane has been ruled out for up to six weeks due to a hamstring injury, with Matt Todd brought into the squad as cover, coach Steve Hansen said on Sunday.
Cane, the long-time understudy to former captain Richie McCaw, was replaced just after halftime by rookie loose forward Ardie Savea during the All Blacks’ 57-22 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in Hamilton on Saturday.
Hansen said after the match that early indications were that Cane would be out for six weeks as a worst case scenario, four weeks “at best”.
The injury to Cane, who had smoothly slotted into the vacancy left by McCaw’s now retired boots, has opened the door for the dynamic Savea to start his first test after coming off the bench five times since his debut against Wales in June.
Hansen, however, was loathe to confirm whether the 22-year-old would start and said the Hurricanes player was still growing and getting used to the physicality at the top level.
“He’s growing all the time. We had a good chat last week. He’s happy and everyone is happy with the progress but we know there’s things he can still do better,” Hansen told reporters in Hamilton on Sunday.
“It’s the pace of the game. He’s a really explosive athlete so is he ready to play 80 minutes? We’re not sure yet at that level but we’ll get a good 60 out of him and we know Matty can play for as long as we need him.”
Savea, who was managed through the Hurricanes since he came into the side in 2013 before taking the starting role in 2015, had initially made the step into professional rugby weighing less than 100kg.
Most loose forwards in the modern game are over 105kg and tend towards 110, with McCaw weighing about 108kg and Cane now 109kg after coming into the All Blacks at about 102.
“That extra weight gives him (Cane) a lot more strength and power and he’s able to do things that others can’t,” Hansen said. “Defensively he’s been fantastic.
“I don’t know if Ardie will get to that weight but he’s certainly come a long way.
“Ardie has still got weight to put on and strength to gain. When he started Super Rugby he was only 95kgs – he’s up to 102 now so if we can get him around 105 that’ll be a good weight for him.”