Ollie Ritchie: Sam Cane back injury more serious than first thought, eased back from bench against Italy

OPINION: No real surprises, but boosts for the All Blacks before their must-win pool game against Italy at the Rugby World Cup.

Coach Ian Foster wants to get captain Sam Cane back playing, so he will come off the bench. The entire injured quartet will be back - Shannon Frizell and Jordie Barrett come straight into the starting line-up, with Tyrell Lomax also coming off the bench, after that nasty gash he copped against South Africa.

That's really important for the All Blacks. They are crucial players for them, very much part of their first-choice XV, and at this stage of the tournament, with just two pool games to go, Foster is desperate to get some gametime under their belts.

Sam Cane and Damian McKenzie share a laugh against Namibia.
Sam Cane and Damian McKenzie share a laugh against Namibia. Photo credit: Photosport

Getting those players back is a big boost for the All Blacks.

Cane actually copped a pretty nasty back injury at captain's run for the France game, lifting one of his teammates at a lineout, and it probably took a little longer than he and Foster initially thought to come back from it.

It's taking a little longer to progress, and it sounds like Foster only wants to give him maybe 20 or so minutes off the bench, as opposed to starting him. The intensity early in a match is much higher and emotions are running high, there's more energy out there.

Maybe once there are some tired Italian bodies, the game may open up some more and that might be a better time to bring Cane on. They don't want him playing the full 80 minutes - he's probably not ready for that,

If he can get 15-20 minutes against Italy and a few more under his belt next week against Uruguay, they will hope he is fit and ready to start by the time the quarter-finals roll around. 

Suspended Ethan de Groot would normally start at loosehead prop, but Ofa Tuungafasi starts there and Tamaiti Williams comes off the bench, with a potential World Cup debut for the young Crusaders prop.

In a way, it's quite good they have Tuungafasi and Nepo Laulala on the other side of the scrum - two really experienced All Blacks, who have been there, done that - for such an important game against Italy.

It's a must-win game for the All Blacks - do or die - and if they don't win, it's highly unlikely they will make the quarter-finals. They need as much experience as they can get out there, so timely to have Tuungafasi and Laulala in the front row.

The scrum has come under all sorts of pressure over the last few weeks and they need a lift in that area, so they'll hope to get that out of two very experienced players.

Speaking of experience, Sam Whitelock will become the most-capped All Black in history, surpassing Richie McCaw with 149 tests. It's unbelievable to think he debuted in 2010.

I hadn't even finished high school then and Whitelock was making his debut - that's how long he's been around. He continues to notch up the records and last week he equalled Richie McCaw, this week he's surpassing him, next week he will reach 150 tests, the first All Blacks player to do that.

Then, he'll become the most-capped All Black at the World Cup, so every week, there's something new for Sam Whitelock. He turns 35 later this year and just keeps on going - I don't know how he does it, but that engine just finds a way to keep ticking over.

Sam Whitelock scores one of two tries against Ireland on debut in 2010.
Sam Whitelock scores one of two tries against Ireland on debut in 2010. Photo credit: Photosport

He's so crucial to that All Blacks team, but I think he's better off as a starter. I'm not sure his best role will be off the bench.

They have Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett there, so there is a lot of competition in the locking department alone, but I think further down the road, you'll see Whitelock back into the starting line-up.

I don't think he gives the All Blacks that punch and lift off the bench that maybe a Retallick or Barrett could, but what a milestone for him - just a gift that keeps on giving in that forward pack.

Ollie Ritchie is Newshub's rugby reporter at the World Cup