Sam Cane leaned back on his sin-bin chair and crossed his arms. That was it then.
The New Zealand captain in the Rugby World Cup final had just become a spectator in the biggest match of his career yesterday [Macau time] and an historic footnote.
Cane received the news that his yellow card was upgraded to red with despair. He’d been sin-binned with 51 minutes still left in the final, his team was trailing South Africa 9-3, and his absence, rather than his presence, was expected to determine the outcome.
But the All Blacks fought brilliantly without the inspirational Cane, and lost only 12-11 to the defending champion Springboks.
Cane, naturally, was pained but also proud at the end.
“It’s so, so hard,” he said. “I’m feeling so much hurt, but I am so proud of the group the way they fought back and gave ourselves a shot of winning that game. It speaks volumes for the group as a whole. It is a fantastic group of men who care so much for playing for the All Blacks and making New Zealand proud. So there is a lot of heartbreak in the sheds right now. It is hard.”
He was sent off for a shoulder-led tackle into the face of South Africa’s Jesse Kriel in the 29th minute.
“At the time I wasn’t even aware, it caught me off guard that he stepped back,” Cane said. “But we have been here for two months now and anything around the head has ramifications. I’m not here to discuss whether it was the right or wrong decision. It can’t be changed. Unfortunately it is something I am going to have to live with forever.”
Cane became the first player to be red-carded in a final.
The only previous card in a Rugby World Cup final was a yellow for All Black Ben Smith in 2015, when New Zealand beat Australia.
But the first final in the professional era between rugby’s greatest teams, the only three-time champions, was a tight, stomach-turning contest that conjured not just Cane’s red card but three more yellows.
All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell was sin-binned in just the third minute for a neck roll on Bongi Mbonambi. Mbonambi injured his leg which ended the night for the South Africa hooker. The injury was ruled accidental and Frizell returned to the field.
Cane was the next to go, and the red card ruling sent gasps of shock through the crowd.
The final became 14 vs. 14 in the 47th minute when Springboks captain Siya Kolisi was sin-binned for a head-on-head tackle of Ardie Savea, but Kolisi eventually returned, too. MDT/AP