Rugby World Cup: Captain Sam Cane silences Irish critics in leading All Blacks to quarter-final victory

In July 2022, Ireland flanker Peter O'Mahoney delivered a sledge to All Blacks captain Sam Cane so brutal, it left the rugby world shaking.

"You're just a s*** Richie McCaw."

On Sunday, leading New Zealand to a 28-24 World Cup quarter-final victory over the same opposition, Cane made O'Mahony eat his words.

As the All Blacks endured everything the world No.1 and tournament heavyhitters had to reach the semis, the openside flanker stood at the front of an effort that will go down as one of their greatest test wins.

Sam Cane leads the All Blacks from the field.
Sam Cane leads the All Blacks from the field. Photo credit: Getty Images

In 75 minutes, Cane affected a game-high 21 tackles at a success rate of 91 percent, made two turnovers and didn't let his standards slip once to burst Ireland's balloon.

He limped from the field in the dying minutes - not out of injury, but exhaustion - and was given a rapturous response from his teammates.

While his position has come under question from various areas, those doubts have never come from anyone he shares a dressingroom with.

Even after missing the start of the tournament with a back injury, Cane's place in the starting side was never in jeopardy and, on Sunday, he showed exactly why.  

"Unbelievable," said second-five Jordie Barrett. "He just shows up in those big moments.

"I bet you he's feeling pretty good about himself right now and so he should be.

"He's well respected in our group. We know and we've learned in big test matches and in World Cups, it's your defence that wins you those games.

"He showed tonight, he popped up in those certain moments, so physical, so brave and so tough. It was outstanding."

While so much of the All Blacks win was about making amends for that 2022 series defeat on home soil, Cane emphasises none of it was personal.

Ultimately, the skipper has had the last laugh, even if he won't admit it himself.

"No motivation from that," said Cane of O'Mahony's sledge. "We know they've got a few players that like to get under your skin with tactics like that.

"We went into the game knowing that they were going to be like that, but [we were] really focussed on sticking to our jobs and worrying about executing our stuff.

"We didn't buy into it."

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