Cane eager to restore All Blacks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand captain Sam Cane admits improvement across the board is their focus when a second-string All Blacks face the "flair" of Conor O'Shea's new-look Italy in Rome on Saturday.
Cane revealed that their attention will be on plugging the holes in their game at the Stadio Olimpico as they look to bury the memory of last week's 29-40 defeat.
New Zealand's impressive streak of 18 consecutive Test victories was ended last week when they lost to Ireland for the first time in 111 years at in Chicago.
It was a performance New Zealand have no intention of repeating when they travel to Dublin looking for revenge on November 19, before wrapping up their northern tour against France in Paris.
Groomed as the eventual successor to retired All Blacks great Richie McCaw, Cane said: "We've touched on as much as we can, while realising it's almost a whole new team we're running out and that it's different opposition.
"But it's important we get it right because a lot of the areas that Ireland threatened and exposed us in, I suppose, are strengths of Italy's as well,"
Italy host New Zealand for the first time since 2012, when McCaw's men stormed to a 42-10 win and Cane watched from the bench.
"The crowd was deafening when Italy scored against us, right there at the left-hand side of the upright," said Cane, pointing to the posts at the north end of the stadium.
"It was an awesome experience, so it's cool to be back here, in a different position, four years on,"
But with coach Steve Hansen making 12 changes and Italy now playing with far more conviction under former Harlequins maestro O'Shea, the scoreline could be tighter.
A promising summer tour of the Americas that saw Italy run Argentina close in a 30-24 defeat has piqued the interest of rivals.
Questions remain, with Treviso's Giorgio Bronzini given his international debut at scrumhalf in an untested halfback partnership with Carlo Canna, who has only 12 caps to his name.
But for New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith, Italy are not just showing promise in their traditional strong points of the scrum and line-outs.
"When they played Argentina in June I thought they were outstanding in the forwards, particularly in the scrum," Smith told AFP.
"On that tour they scored five tries from line-out drives. That's clearly an area where they will target us, we've got a young pack and they'll have a go at us there.
"Canna has a great, attacking kicking game as good as anyone around, so we have to be aware of that, and look for a bit of speed from the back three.
"It's going to be a real test. I've been with the All Blacks a long time and, apart from the World Cup 2007 blow-out, I've never had an easy game with Italy. It's always been a bit of a battle."
A virtually sold-out Stadio Olimpico could bear witness to the rebirth of an Italy team that struggled to progress under former handler Jacques Brunel, as well as the future stars of the All Blacks.
"[Cane] has had a very long apprenticeship under Richie McCaw" and has the tools to follow in the All Blacks' legend's footsteps.
"I've got no doubt he's got the potential. He's a smart young man, he's tough, and it means a lot to him," said Smith.
"He's got all the bits and pieces to become exceptional."
Although just 24, Chiefs loose forward Cane won't take Italy for granted.
"We know very well they'll challenge us up front," said Cane, who captained New Zealand for the first time against Namibia at the 2015 World Cup.
"They like to scrum and they've scored a fair few tries from their driving mauls this year as well.
"We'll be up for a battle up front, they'll try take us on there. They've got some flair and they do like to play.
"With their new coach, we've seen a lot more offloads and ball movements. If things go to plan, it should be a good game," added Cane