Rugby World Cup: Sam Cane injury opens door for Dalton Papali'i to impress in All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup showdown against Australia

While most test rugby sides would shudder at the prospect of losing their captain, the All Blacks' strength in depth sees a readymade replacement for Sam Cane to face the Wallabies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

In Cane's place, Dalton Papali'i has been given another chance to prove his worth as a test No.7, afforded his 25th appearance in the black jersey on Saturday night.

Since his 2018 debut, Papali'i, 25, has had to be patient for his opportunities in test rugby.

In any other era, the loose forward would command a starting jersey, but has been shut out by a current logjam of quality. 

Despite continuing to stand out as Blues captain in Super Rugby Pacific, Papali'i has had to rely on injuries to Cane, rather than his own form, to be given the chance to show his wares on the international stage.

Of his 24 tests so far, Papali'i has started only 14, often forced to cover from the bench. With a line drawn through Cane's involvement this week, he doesn't hide his joy at being a run-on starter once again. 

"I'm pretty excited for it, especially going to the MCG," he said. "I've never played there before, it's an unreal stadium from what I hear.

"I've been given the opportunity, all I can do is try and fulfil it, and try to play to the best of my ability. I'm looking forward to it."

Although, that start might be Papali'i's last for a while, barring disaster. Cane's absence comes after his early exit in the All Blacks' victory against South Africa at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart two weeks ago.

On that occasion, the All Blacks captain was a precautionary withdrawal after a neckroll from Springboks skipper Eben Etzebeth.

Coach Ian Foster maintains Cane's exit was not serious, after recent years dogged by a broken neck (2018) and ruptured pectoral muscle (2021) in particular. 

But in a year with the Rugby World Cup clearly looming as its focal point, Foster insists the skipper's absence is not a sign of things to come. 

Dalton Papali'i trains.
Dalton Papali'i trains. Photo credit: Photosport

"It's not serious at all," he assured. "Him and I had a conversation at the start of the week, and felt he'd benefit from a week of not getting back to play.

"I'll make sure we give him as much recovery time as possible. Expect him to be fully available for next week at this stage."

The All Blacks face the Wallabies at the MCG on Saturday, before the reverse fixture at Dunedin a week later.