Did World Cup final red card influence Sam Cane’s decision? All Blacks legend opens up on his retirement

David Skippers
Sam Cane NZ RWC Final 2023 - Alamy.jpg

All Blacks skipper Sam Cane.

Losing the 2023 Rugby World Cup final by one point to South Africa had nothing to do with departing All Blacks captain Sam Cane’s decision to retire from international rugby.

The 32-year-old is still available to play for New Zealand but ruled himself out of the captaincy after announcing his retirement from international rugby at the end of this season to take up a three-year contract with his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath.

By accepting that deal, Cane has made himself unavailable for All Blacks selection after 2024 under New Zealand Rugby’s current eligibility rules.

Returning to New Zealand from Japan

He will return to New Zealand from his current sabbatical at Suntory Sungoliath to fight for a spot in new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson‘s squad, but concedes he is unlikely to retain his captaincy.

There has been lots of speculation over the reasoning behind Cane’s retirement call, with his former All Blacks team-mate Israel Dagg saying he believes Robertson forced the 95-Test veteran into his decision.

Speaking on the The Rock Morning Rumble radio show in New Zealand, Cane was asked if New Zealand’s 12-11 defeat to arch rivals South Africa played a part in his thinking when deciding to retire from the Test arena.

The openside flanker was red carded in that clash – after he was initially yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle which was then upgraded – but he insists that game or his contribution to the end result did not influence his decision.

Israel Dagg: All Blacks boss Scott Robertson ‘forced’ Sam Cane to retire

“I wouldn’t say it has… I don’t think so,” Cane said. “In my head, it hasn’t really come into the decision-making.

“No doubt last year took a lot out of me, emotionally and mentally probably.

“This break over here – although the last couple of months I’ve been rehabbing – they’ve been good, and I’m hugely motivated to come back and still be available for selection.

“Even though it’s my last year, I feel like I’ve still got a lot to offer the group, particularly knowing so many senior All Blacks have moved on. I believe I’ve got a bit to add there, not just off the field, but hopefully on it.”

Cane admitted that the heartache of losing that World Cup final – and especially his own personal regret over the circumstances – was considerably eased by the reception the All Blacks received when they returned to New Zealand.

‘Really proud’ of response

“From years of what we’d experienced from the NZ public… a lot of that comes with the expectation and pressure of being an All Black, and a lot of that external pressure drives us as well, to be fair,” he said.

“We were heartbroken, really gutted to be 1-2 points away from achieving something pretty special, given the circumstances. Then to come home to that response, we were really proud – it certainly helped with the healing process.

“Even the response at the airport… we didn’t expect anyone to be there, but there were people with signs. It made us feel quite proud of what we’d been able to achieve, even though, in our minds, we had failed.”

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