Rugby World Cup: Dalton Papali'i happy to take backseat to in-form All Blacks captain Sam Cane

If there was one person who'd be forgiven for being upset by the incredible form of All Blacks captain Sam Cane, it'd be Dalton Papali'i - not that he is, though.

Currently preparing for Sunday's (NZ time) Rugby World Cup final against South Africa, the performances of the All Blacks in recent weeks have been instrumental in setting up the decider against the Springboks. 

Against Ireland in the quarter-final, Cane put in arguably his best performance in an All Blacks jersey to cause an upset over the then world No.1 side, before backing it up against Argentina a week later.

Long seen as the eventual successor to the All Blacks' fabled No.7 jersey, Papali'i has enjoyed a stop-start tournament.

Sam Cane and Dalton Papali'i.
Sam Cane and Dalton Papali'i. Photo credit: Getty Images

After starting the first three games of the World Cup, due to a back injury for Cane, Papali'i has been relegated to the bench once his skipper returned to full fitness.

And now, with the All Blacks peaking at the right time, and changes to a winning side unlikely, it's almost certain the 26-year-old will start Sunday's final on the bench as well.

But rather than be frustrated by his circumstances, Papali'i is happy to swallow his pride, and accepts Cane's displays see him comfortably instilled as second choice in the race to be the All Blacks' openside flanker. 

"At the end of the day, I'm here to win a World Cup," said Papali'i. "Whatever it takes, whatever the team needs, I'm going to put my hand up and say I'm going do it.

"You have feelings like that here and there, but this is a World Cup. They only come every four years, and you never know if you're going to make a final again.

"This whole tour, I've put my hand up saying whatever the team needs, whatever my role might be – starting, on the bench or even not playing – what does the team playing need from me that'll prepare them to play their best on game day.

"You get feelings here or there, but [Cane's] playing some awesome footy. I've been picking his brain and maybe getting annoying because I'm trying to learn off the best. But he's been playing some good footy.

"Whatever I need to do to make this team in the best shape for the game, I'm going to do."

Instead, Papali'i will focus on the job at hand.

All tournament, the All Blacks' reserves have been just as important as the first-choice side, tasked with either making an impact when given the chance, or helping prepare the matchday 23 as best they can.

Stars at club level, players like Papali'i, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown and many others have had to quickly get used to the fact they're not guaranteed starters for their country.

However as a settled squad, Papali'i says players must be comfortable in doing what's needed of them in France.  

"You've got to know your role within the team," he added. "I know my role is to come in here, try to bring energy where we need it.

"If I don't know my role, I'm letting the team down. Everyone has different roles within the team."

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