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Sam Cane as captain limits the All Blacks' loose forward trio

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images)

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You have to commend the All Blacks selectors for courage, if nothing else.

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Picking Sam Cane as captain is brave.

It weds you to an openside flanker whose participation is a game-by-game proposition and severely limits your options with the loose trio.

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Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that Cane, Ardie Savea and Akira Ioane are now New Zealand’s first-string line-up.

Of the three, two appear there by default.

Cane is captain and has to play somewhere, while Ioane’s probable inclusion in the first test team to play Ireland probably owes a lot to the lack of other options.

It’s a little bit dire, don’t you think?

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And rather unfair on Dalton Papalii, who many regard as having been one of Super Rugby Pacific’s better performers.

But in plumping for Cane as captain, the national selectors have rather stymied Papalii’s progress. After all, they couldn’t possibly put him in the same trio as Savea and Cane?

Not after the way the All Blacks were manhandled by Ireland and France a few months ago.

That’s just too small a trio to cut it against test rugby’s proper teams.

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I don’t want to round on Cane. He hasn’t picked himself.

Durability is not his strong suit and, in the eyes of some, he’s not actually the best player in his position.

We were spoilt by Richie McCaw. He could play through pretty much any injury and there was never any sense that he was a specialist skipper.

He demanded selection and was also the undisputed leader.

We can wish the same for Cane all we like, but there are no comparisons.

I’ve written before that I would install Savea as All Blacks captain. Mostly because his is just about the first name on the team sheet.

We saw Sam Whitelock captain the side last year, both with and without Cane in the squad.

My admiration for Whitelock is massive, but he is an ageing player with an incredible number of miles on the clock.

As all eyes inevitably turn to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, can we honestly say Whitelock will be in New Zealand’s best team by then?

In picking Cane to captain the team, the selectors have signalled that he’ll be there in 2023. No matter what kind of juggling act his inclusion necessitates.

I have to say I was rather underwhelmed by this 36-man squad.

I don’t see any justification for picking Hoskins Sotutu, Pita-Gus Sowakula, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck or Stephen Perofeta, among others.

We waste a lot of time debating the merits of men who’ll only be bit-part players, so I’ll try not to do that here.

But I don’t see Sotutu and Sowakula as blindside flankers or as rivals to Savea for No.8. Much as Savea might be a good openside, Cane’s got that spot sewn up now.

I’m a fan of Tu’inukuafe’s, but given his future lies in French club football, I’d go as far as to call his selection nonsensical.

Most of all, though, I fear for Cane. I fear that – through no fault of his own – he’ll become the unpopular captain playing for an unpopular coach.

People will never stop having reservations about Ian Foster being in charge and those I talk to tend to tar Cane with the coach’s brush.

They see Cane cast in a role for which he’s unsuited, just like Foster has been.

I wish Cane luck. I think his selection as captain causes more problems than it solves, but I wish him well with it.

Maybe he’ll prove to be the player and leader New Zealand needs and maybe he won’t.

Either way, the selectors have ensured the captain will be a continual talking point.

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