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Sam Cane is 'not the magnificent player he was five years ago'

By Ned Lester
Ian Foster and Sam Cane arrive for All Blacks training. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

All Black captain Sam Cane has been under immense pressure since the moment he assumed the top leadership role following the 2019 Rugby World Cup, pressure not just for his captaincy but also for his starting role on the team. Just nine months out from a World Cup, the captain is facing some of his most persistent scrutiny.

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Cane’s run as captain of the All Blacks has been littered with injuries and historic losses, the team’s underwhelming record since the 2019 World Cup has been frequently blamed on the leadership of Cane and head coach Ian Foster.

Foster reviewed the 2022 season after his side’s final Test against England, grading the first half of the season a D and the second half as a B plus. More interestingly, the coach offered no certainty on who would captain the All Blacks in 2023, stating that Cane would have to “demand” the role through form and that the coaching staff would continue to reassess the captaincy.

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Sports journalist Mark Reason lent his two cents to the debate on Stuff‘s The Podium podcast.

“The whole country knows that he shouldn’t be,” Reason said when questioned on whether Cane will occupy the captaincy at this year’s World Cup. “He’s not the magnificent player he was five years ago and why should he be after so many hideous injuries that he’s had.

“He’s not that player, he gives away too many penalties which cost the All Blacks in some of the games against Ireland. And I’m not even convinced by his leadership, he’s neither one thing nor the other as a leader; he’s not the really quiet strong man or he’s not the very, very vocal man, he sits somewhere in between.

“He’s obviously misspoken at times after games, so I don’t think he should be. Will he? I think Foster’s incredibly, incredibly stubborn on this one, so if Cane plays through for the Chiefs and holds some form, I suspect he will be.”

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Ex-All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen recently backed Cane, claiming the No 7 purely needs more time in the saddle. The great coach also referenced Richie McCaw’s growth in the role of captain throughout his career as an example of the kind of excellence that can come from patience and support.

If Papali’i was to surpass Cane in the eyes of selectors, Cane’s captaincy would be vacated, leaving a decision that could go one of two ways according to Reason; experience or youth.

“I probably wouldn’t pick Ardie Savea, it would be a choice for me between Sam Whitelock and Dalton Papali’i.

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“It might be a little early for Papali’i but it’s a job that’s been done extremely well by young captains around the world and I don’t think he’d be overawed with it, he did a great job with the Blues last season. So one of those two, a lot of it would come down to who’s better at talking to the ref, it’s a huge factor.”

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