All Blacks captain slammed as not ‘up to it’

Springboks great Victor Matfield has heaped more pressure on struggling All Blacks skipper Sam Cane, questioning whether the flanker “is up to it”.

Cane leads a desperate All Blacks team looking to change their fortunes with the toughest of assignments – back-to-back Tests in South Africa.

Matfield felt Ireland’s historic series win in New Zealand had emphasized the sluggish nature of the All Blacks defense and saw Cane as a prime culprit.

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“They are still struggling to decide on their best loose forward combination,” the Rugby World Cup-winning lock told the BokSquad website.

“Sam Cane is the captain, but I’m not sure he’s up to it at the moment – ​​in terms of getting over the ball, stealing the ball, slowing it down.

“All of that contributes to a team’s defence. They are not really stopping the opposition from getting quick ball. They are allowing the opposition to get a quick recycle at the ruck and to launch a multi-phase attack.”

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Cane was subbed late in the decisive third Test against Ireland as the All Blacks lost but has kept the faith of his coach Ian Foster who is also under immense pressure.

The hits keep coming though and doubts on the New Zealand skipper were always likely to surface in South Africa where mind games are part of their rugby psyche.

Cane spoke to reporters in Mbombela about handling the pressure ahead of the Rugby Championship opener on Sunday (1.05am AEST).

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“I’ve been doing all right,” Cane said.

“The key is not to engage or read any articles or stuff online, and focus on your close group of friends and teammates. As long as they have your back and believe in you, and you believe in yourself, then you’re in a pretty good spot.

“It’s probably harder sometimes on loved ones. But I’ve been all good. When we come in and get into our work, it’s almost like we’re in our own little bubble, just focusing on getting things right.”

“Whenever you don’t get a result you’re looking for, the first thing you do is look in the mirror and look at your own performance. When you get to this level, players are always going to look at themselves and what they could have done better, rather than look outside.

“There have been a few tweaks within the coaching staff which should hopefully help, but without doubt a few of us need to be stepping up on the field.”

The Springboks have named a predictably powerful side with Malcolm Marx starting at hooker in place of Bongi Mbonambi and halfback Faf de Klerk recalled.

The only other change to the Springboks team that clinched the series against Wales last month was on the right wing where Kurt-Lee Arendse was selected in place of Cheslin Kolbe, who has a broken jaw.

The Springboks also put six forwards on the bench in Mbonambi, props Steven Kitshoff and Vincent Koch, lock Salmaan Moerat and utilities Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith.

New halfback Jaden Hendricks and Willie le Roux are the two reserve backs.

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“We believe experience and physicality will be vital in this Test,” Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber said, while warning of the All Blacks ability to bounce back.

“The All Blacks are strong all around and they will come to Nelspruit (now Mbombela) desperate to avenge their series defeat against Ireland and to prove that they remain one of the powerhouses in world rugby.

“New Zealand have always tested us to the limit, and it will be no different in the next two weeks.”

SPRINGBOKS (15-1): Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane

Reservations: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Salmaan Moerat, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Willie le Roux

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