Sam Cane has said that he spoke to new All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson at length before heading off to Japan as he looks to put himself in the Test reckoning for 2024.
The 31-year-old has landed in Asia to play for Tokyo Sungoliath on a short-term deal before he heads back to New Zealand ahead of the July Test series.
He will be available for those games but it remains to be seen whether the flanker fits into Robertson’s plans.
The head coach, who took over from Ian Foster recently, remains coy on the captaincy conundrum and will take time before deciding who his skipper will be.
Cane is in the frame but the 49-year-old may want someone he knows from his Crusaders days, with Scott Barrett one of those potentially in line to take the role.
At the moment, the openside’s international future is up in the air, but he revealed that he had a “long chat” with Robertson before jetting off to Japan.
He did not disclose the full extent of that conversion, but hinted at what the new All Blacks boss may have told him as the back-row seeks to “evolve” his skills.
“A lot of the areas that I want to get better at in my game – speed, agility – are all required in this league,” he told reporters. “It will test me to evolve my game and I’m really looking forward to that.
“Playing for the All Blacks, you have to earn that by playing well every week. I know the All Blacks coaches will be keeping an eye on some of us boys over here.
“The sole focus is just to play well, try and improve as a rugby player and hopefully have the opportunity of returning to the team again.”
Plenty of company in Japan
Cane is not the only All Black to take up a deal in Japan, with a plethora of Kiwis moving to Asia following the Rugby World Cup.
Among them are Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith, who have taken longer-term contracts, as well as Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett, who are currently only there for the 2023/24 season.
There are plenty of other nationalities also featuring in Japan Rugby League One, including Springboks star Cheslin Kolbe, who has joined Cane at Sungoliath.
“That’s one of the exciting things about this competition,” the openside flanker added.
“You’re playing against a lot of the top Japanese players and a lot of players who come from abroad.”