Rugby World Cup: All Blacks captain Sam Cane suffers worrying neck injury against Springboks at Mt Smart

While the All Blacks can reflect with satisfaction on their post-to-post Rugby Championship victory over world champions South Africa at Mt Smart, the sight of captain Sam Cane sidelined by a neck injury at halftime will provide some concern, with a World Cup looming.

The openside flanker showed out, as his team dominated the Springboks through the opening 20 minutes of the contest, but did not emerge from the tunnel for the second half, replaced by understudy Dalton Papali'i, after he was victim of a high tackle from 'Boks captain Eben Etzebeth.

Coincidentally, the first half ended with a similar challenge from South African lock Lood de Jager on All Blacks No.8 Ardia Savea, who was promoted to the captaincy with Cane's departure.

Sam Cane leads his All Blacks onto Go Media Stadium Mt Smart
Sam Cane leads his All Blacks onto Go Media Stadium Mt Smart. Photo credit: Photosport

Rugby purists may cringe, but if this was an NRL game, both second-rowers would have been cited and dispatched to the sin bin for 10 minutes, guilty of classic neckrolls.

As it happened, French referee Mathieu Raynal - yes, the man who gifted a Bledisloe Cup game to New Zealand last year, when he penalised Wallabies first-five Bernard Foley for time-wasting - kept his yellow and red cards to himself for the entire 80 minutes.

Cane has a worrying history of neck and head injuries, so any sign of a recurrence might send alarm bells through the All Blacks camp, but he has moved quickly to dampen those fears.

"Just before Shannon's try, I got my neck tweaked," he said. "We came in at halftime and I let the medical staff know.

"[Coach Ian Foster] made the call in the end - it was probably a bit precautionary, but I've got the coming week to get it right and hopefully it's not too bad."

Cane sat out an early Super Rugby Pacific round for the Chiefs with a similar injury that was initially thought to be concussion. 

In 2018, he fractured his neck against the Springboks and missed the All Blacks' northern hemisphere tour.

On this occasion, he was recovered enough to raise the Freedom Trophy, the silverware contested between the two rugby rivals, which New Zealand captured at Johannesburg last year.

The All Blacks skipper has two weeks to rest and rehab, before his team's next outing against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.