Super Rugby Pacific: Dalton Papalii v Sam Cane shapes as must-watch as Blues-Chiefs looms as early All Blacks trial

As the race for All Blacks spots heats up in Super Rugby Pacific, this Saturday's clash between the Blues and the Chiefs shapes as a stage for more than one player to prove their worth.

In the 'Battle of the Bombays', the Aucklanders travel south to Hamilton to face the competition-leaders, looking to inflict a first defeat of 2023 on Clayton McMillan's side.

The encounter also looms as pivotal for the two No.7s, as All Blacks captain Sam Cane faces off against contender to the throne, Dalton Papalii.

Both players are in a shootout for one All Blacks starting spot for this year's World Cup in France.

Injury woes for Cane over the past two seasons have opened the door for Papalii to prove his worth for the All Blacks - a chance he's taken with both hands.

As Chiefs co-captain, on top of leading the All Blacks, Cane has started the season in fine fettle, beginning to silence his doubters.

Naturally, the contest between the two will dominate pre-match discussion, as one of many contests between All Blacks hopefuls, but for Papalii, the upcoming battle holds no bearing over how he plays, with the Blues' fortunes coming above any personal battle. 

"To be honest, I just think it's another game," said Papalii. "For me, going into this game, all I know is I don't change my process at all.

"People have asked me [about Cane], but to be honest, I'm just focused on my game, and ready to go out there and play some good footy.

"You look forward to these battles against the best. That's what makes you into a better player - going against the best.

Dalton Papali'i.
Dalton Papali'i. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's always a good match-up going against them. Those are the match-ups you look forward to."

Meanwhile, Blues coach Leon MacDonald expects both sides reflect their captain, as his team look to keep pace with Super Rugby's leaders. 

"They're both fantastic players, both very influential for their teams," said MacDonald. "They're the heart of the team really, with the way they play with a lot of bravery.

"They're both rugged guys. Trying to catch that inch in the middle, get the turnovers, big tackle rates, they're going to be right in the thick of it.

"Both teams are going to follow their skippers into battle. That's what they'll both be looking to do next week."

Other All Blacks hopefuls will also have the chance to claim bragging rights. Damian McKenzie will square off against the pair of Beauden Barrett and Stephen Perofeta, while Finlay Christie and Brad Weber can both stake their claims at halfback.

MacDonald doesn't think players will think about impressing All Blacks coach Ian Foster as much making sure they end up on the winning side.

"They're the games you want to play in, the big games," added MacDonald. "If you want to be an All Black, you've got to excel on the biggest stage.

Sam Cane.
Sam Cane. Photo credit: Getty Images

"This is a chance for our players to do that and put their hand up. There's a lot of guys playing for All Black jerseys, but that's probably in the back of their minds.

"It's about getting the result for their team. [They're] both very passionate teams, proud of the regions and unions they represent.

"It's going to be a great battle."

Join Newshub from 7pm Saturday for live updates of the Chiefs v Blues Super Rugby Pacific clash