WELLINGTON: All Blacks flanker Sam Cane will make his return to rugby on Saturday after recovering from a neck injury sustained against South Africa last October.
Cane was named on the bench for the Waikato Chiefs for their Super Rugby match with the Auckland Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.
The return of the openside flanker will be welcome news for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with the Rugby World Cup due to start in four months in Japan.
The 27-year-old Cane broke a bone in his neck in the All Blacks' 32-30 victory over the Springboks last year and had surgery in South Africa.
He spent more than 10 days in South Africa after the surgery before returning home to recover, with Hansen stating several times there would be no desire by the Chiefs or All Blacks to rush Cane back into action.
Cane told local media last week that he feared never playing again but his recovery had been well managed and a series of 'baby steps' had got him back onto the field.
"I was aware of the worst-case scenario early, but to me the worst-case scenario still wasn't as bad as what it could have been," Cane told the Sunday Star-Times last week.
"I know it could have been so much worse, and to have the light at the end of the tunnel to first of all be walking around and doing most things I wanted and to know I could get back to rugby again was just a bonus."
Cane, whose role involves exposing his upper body to significant collisions at the breakdown, added that he had no fear of returning to the game and into contact as he would have been gradually introduced to it before he took the field anyway.
"I don't think I will have any fear," he added. "I will have ticked off all those sort of things in training before I go out on the field. No stone is unturned.
"There will always be things you might get slightly wrong. But the surgeon is not going to send me out there unless he's 100 per cent sure."
The Chiefs sit fourth in New Zealand's conference with 23 points but still have an outside chance of making the top-eight for the playoffs, while the Blues (21) need to win to remain in the hunt.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)