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Taupo & Turangi Weekender - 2021-10-14

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AB captain Cane lines up for The Rams

SPORT

It was a rare throwback to the good old days of amateur rugby. Last Saturday afternoon in Taupo¯ , All Blacks captain Sam Cane teamed up with fencers, farmers and foresty workers when he turned out for the King Country provincial side. He played for just under an hour, but couldn’t lift King Country to their first win of the Heartland Championship, Whanganui scoring seven tries in their 48-13 victory. With his regular provincial side Bay of Plenty on a bye week, Cane was looking for a team who could take him as he returned from a long injury layoff and prepared to make his return to the intenational arena. The team known in rugby circles as ‘The Rams’ were only too happy to help. But King Country Rugby general manager Kurt McQuilkin admitted both he and coach Craig Jeffries could hardly believe their luck when the latter phoned the former with the news late last week. “Craig called and said ‘you’re not going to believe this but we’ve been offered Sam Cane’s services for our match against Whanganui next weekend, what do I tell them’. “I said ‘take their arm off’.” McQuilkin’s eagerness was understandable. And not just because King Country sit bottom of the Heartland Championship standings after starting the season with three straight losses. It’s not every day the All Black captain played in what was effectively the third tier of the New Zealand rugby pyramid. Which was exactly why Cane’s All Blacks teammate Dane Coles thought it was a good idea. “I’ve been trying to play for Horowhenua for a long time but unfortunately it [hasn’t happened]. “But [Sam and I] have been keeping in touch and I said to him, ‘why don’t you play Heartland’. He was like ‘oh yeah, that’s a good idea’ and next thing he’s playing for the King Country Rams. It’s an awesome thing for an All Blacks captain to go back and play grassroots. It’s a big part of New Zealand Rugby and a big part of our DNA. “I’m just a bit jealous he gets to do that and I’m sure the Butcher Boys will be ripping into him.” The ‘Butcher Boys’ are Whanganui, who King Country hosted on Saturday afternoon at Owen Delany Park — just half-an-hour down the road from where Cane grew up, in the small central North Island town of Reporoa. King Country coach Craig Jeffries said the All Blacks skipper relished his grassroots return. “He’s genuinely excited. “Obviously coming back from injury would create excitement for any rugby player but there also seems to be genuine excitement about the idea of being involved with the King Country Rams. That was bloody nice to hear in his voice.” Jeffries said, in a region home to one of the great All Blacks captains — the late Sir Colin Meads — the news about Cane spread quickly. “It’s created a whole level of excitement we haven’t seen for a wee while [here]. McQuilkin said the King Country contingent would do their best to make the most of their time with the All Blacks skipper. “We’ll try and have a few beers with him afterwards under the stand and present him with his King Country tie for his first first-class match for us. “He’ll be forever in our King Country Rams family, which is cool.”

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