The All Blacks are feeling pressure from all sides to rebound after their shock home defeat to Argentina but are not far away from producing a winning performance, according to embattled captain Sam Cane.
The All Blacks lost their first ever home Test against the Pumas in Christchurch over the weekend and another loss to the South Americans in Hamilton this weekend would imperil their Rugby Championship title defence.
“There’s that pressure, there’s the external pressure and there’s the internal pressure that we put on ourselves,” Cane said on Tuesday. “We’re not happy with how we fronted up last week so, [there’s] heaps of pressure.”
While coach Ian Foster and the All Blacks staff have shouldered most of the blame for the team’s struggles, flanker Cane has also been a lightning rod for criticism from disgruntled fans.
Former All Blacks coach-turned-TV pundit John Kirwan said the leadership group were failing the team and called for openside Cane to be dropped and replaced by Dalton Papalii in the back row.
Cane agreed the senior players needed to step up but said the woes could be reversed with basic improvements in discipline and execution.
“I don’t think it was a horrible performance by any means,” he said of the 25-18 loss in Christchurch, the All Blacks’ sixth loss in eight Tests.
“I don’t think we’re way off. If we could be a little bit more disciplined in that first half and put them under a lot more pressure, then potentially the game changes from there. But we didn’t do that and they are a very good side. I think that can be underestimated in this whole thing.“
The All Blacks may have reinforcements in the form of former world players of the year, lock Brodie Retallick and fly-half Beauden Barrett, with both back at training after injuries.
Barrett said he was in good shape a week after sustaining a neck injury that sidelined him for Christchurch.
“I’ve realised that I’ve got to get a neck like a front rower to be able to handle these knocks,” he quipped. “A few more shoulder-on tackles, and I’d say I’m just about ready to go.”