Cane to mark century in tough derby

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes reflected that stature Cane enjoys among his team-mates and coaches when describing him as a special player.

"When you look at the whole cross section of Sam Cane it's his ability to play, his physicality he brings to the table, his leadership and just the guy as a person and a bloke. I don't find too many that have got that ability across the board.

"He's a bloody champion and I've only coached a few who have got the whole lot. I've got a massive amount of respect for that man and he's earned it," he said.

Being another New Zealand derby, Cane could expect to be in the thick of the action as he has been during his previous 99 games.

Barnes said the Highlanders were a quality team who played to a simple game plan and were very, very effective.

"They'll put high ball on you, they'll come straight at you and if you can't answer those two things you're going to be in a lot of trouble. We're ready for that and we'll be ready for anything else they bring too," he said.

At the same time the Chiefs were concentrating on their own game and getting that right but were also aware of what the Highlanders were doing.

Barnes said fullback Charlie Ngatai had been working hard on his recovery and they could possibly have returned him last week but it was part of the team's philosophy this year to give them an extra week before coming back.

The decision to move Solomon Alaimalo to fullback and to bring Sean Wainui in on the wing was down to the type of game the Highlanders play and the skill sets the pair had to cope with that.

Likely to make his debut is loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula and Barnes said, "He can play this boy. He provides a lot of X factor, he's got pace, he loves playing with the ball but he can also put the 'D' and work rate in too. He's an impressive man."

He was an injury replacement but with all the injuries the side has suffered he has been contracted with the benefit of also providing lock cover.

While he had a background in the backs, he had found his position now and what the coaches were seeing in him was a lot of skill sets, and cover as lock, that a lot of other players didn't have.

"He's certainly an explosive player and we're about to find out what he can give," he said.

With Canadian international Tyler Ardron making such a big impression in Tokyo last week, Barnes said he wasn't surprised as he had coached him for a long time.

"He was deliberately rested after the Mitre 10 Cup, went home for a little bit as he's gone two and a half years without having a break and I think that showed in his form in the Mitre 10 Cup. But he's rested, trained hard and now he's coming in and starting to deliver and they're only little steps, he's got plenty more to show yet," he said.

Hooker Nathan Harris, who has had his share of injury problems, was getting the reward for hard work and was reflecting his experience with the All Blacks. He was getting comfortable in that environment and was growing as a result of that international exposure.

"I'd like to think he'll get a lot better too," he said.