Sam Cane has been selected as the New Zealand All Blacks captain, succeeding Kieran Read, who retired from Test rugby after last year’s Rugby World Cup.
New coach Ian Foster made the announcement on Tuesday, even though there is no indication of when the All Blacks might play again as rugby union has been canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Cane has been a regular in the New Zealand No. 7 jersey since the retirement of Richie McCaw in 2015 — appearing in more than 60 Tests — his appointment as captain ahead of candidates such as lock Sam Whitelock is a surprise, because he continues to face competition for his position in the New Zealand back row.
New Zealand have produced some great No. 7s, among them McCaw and Michael Jones, and have routinely had a No. 7 as captain, but Cane is not of that quality yet, and is a quiet and unassuming player.
While he has captained the All Blacks three times and the Chiefs Super Rugby team more regularly, his leadership skills are still relatively immature.
He was the fifth-youngest All Blacks captain when, at 23, he led New Zealand against Namibia in 2015. He has also led the team against Italy and Argentina.
“As I’ve spent more time in the All Blacks and grown as a player, I’ve become a lot more comfortable being a leader in the team,” Cane said. “The great thing about the All Blacks is that the leadership group is full of captains and experienced players already, so I’m just really looking forward to working closely with that group, and doing my best to lead them and the rest of the squad.”
The All Blacks captaincy is one of the most important jobs in New Zealand, Foster said, adding that Cane is ready for the responsibility.
“Sam is an experienced All Black with eight years in the team now, and is a ‘follow me’ type of leader and a very good thinker in the game,” he said. “He has a natural ability to connect with everyone in the team, and is straight forward and direct when he needs to be. There’s massive respect for Sam among the players and management.”
Cane made a rapid recovery last year from a neck injury to resume his Test career. He has played since without any obvious impediment, as a hardworking, but unspectacular loose forward.
“My style as captain will be to not really change the way I do things,” Cane said. “I’m just myself and will continue to be. I already work on building relationships, especially with the younger guys in the squad, and everyone else connected with the team.”
Foster’s announcement was unexpected, coming outside any wider All Blacks squad announcement. Its timing meant that it fell at a difficult time in the news cycle, after nightly news bulletins, and achieved less impact than it typically would.
Cane’s appointment has been construed in part as an effort by Foster to solidify his leadership. He has been able to hand pick his assistant coaches and now his captain, ensuring a loyal leadership group.
Cane has played all of his Super Rugby for the Hamilton, New Zealand-based Chiefs, the team that Foster also played for and later coached.
His appointment breaks a more than decade-long era in which the Crusaders provided All Blacks captains, Read and then McCaw.
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