All Blacks flanker Sam Cane is relishing facing up to England’s “pretty impressive” Tom Curry and Sam Underhill in their Rugby World Cup semi-final on Saturday, with the battle at the breakdown key to advancing to the final.
Curry and Underhill, who England coach Eddie Jones has dubbed “The Kamikaze Kids”, have been standouts in England’s strong forward pack at the World Cup.
They got the better of Michael Hooper and the world class David Pocock in their quarter-final in Oita on Saturday to advance to the semi-finals for the first time in 12 years and face the All Blacks in Yokohama.
“Underhill and Curry have been pretty impressive,” Cane said. “They’ve both got a huge appetite for hard work and have very good skill sets. They have been really impressive.”
The English duo were only paired by Jones in their final World Cup warm-up matches, something that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also did with Cane, the first choice openside flanker since Richie McCaw retired in 2015, and Ardie Savea.
Savea’s form this year made it hard for Hansen not to find a way to fit him into the starting team, and after he failed to settle on a first-choice blindside flanker he selected Savea in the number six jersey.
Cane, Savea and captain and number eight Kieran Read have been the preferred loose forward combination since the All Blacks first Bledisloe Cup fixture against Australia in Perth.
The All Blacks were hammered 47-26 by the Wallabies in that game, although they where they were not helped by Scott Barrett’s red card.
After their thrashing at the hands of the Wallabies, where the smaller Cane and Savea were dominated by Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Isi Naisarani, the All Blacks openside was initially unsure if Hansen would persist with the approach.
Hansen, however, stuck with the combination and Cane said it was easy to see why in the modern game.
“I guess it might show how the game has evolved,” Cane said. “We know how teams are so structured and the best chance to attack from (unstructured play) is from turnover ball so you might increase your chances ever so slightly.”
Despite becoming what appears to be the first-choice combination, Cane said they were still working on improvements, especially against England with a place in the final at stake.
“It has been working well,” Cane said. “Ardie has been working really hard on some of his set piece work, which a six is supposed to do more.
“But pretty much apart from the set piece our roles are interchangeable, whether that’s attack or defence. I think we definitely have room for improvement but we’re going all right.”