Kieran Read’s ascension to the captain of the All Blacks was a foregone conclusion after Riche McCaw retired following the 2015 World Cup, but there was uncertainty who would take over following the No8’s retirement at the end of the 2019 World Cup. While it was known for much of last year that Read would be retiring, his successor was never suggested, partly because Steve Hansen was also stepping down as head coach as well. 

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Although nothing was set in stone, Sam Whitelock emerged as the favourite among many pundits and fans, and new coach Ian Foster’s decision to appoint Sam Cane as the All Blacks new skipper has blindsided some fans. This is not to say the Chiefs openside was not in contention for the role, but some supporters have their reservations about the decision. 

There are indeed many who are in favour of this choice, not only because of the 28-year-old’s prowess in a No7 shirt but due to his demeanour off the field and as an ambassador for the game. 

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RugbyPass beings you The Breakdown, the Sky NZ programme where it was revealed Sam Cane would succeed Kieran Read.

The main concern among fans is that Cane is not necessarily an automatic starter for the All Blacks. This was brought into sharp focus in the RWC semi-final against England where he started on the bench as Hansen opted for Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea as his two flankers (although that was not necessarily a successful ploy as the ABs were beaten).

The 63-cap flanker has a long-running battle with Savea to play at openside and while the Hurricanes star can play across the back row, there are many other players competing for the three spots as well. This may actually be an indication by Foster that Savea could even move to No8 to fill the void left by Read, as his form in 2019 put him in the ‘undroppable’ category.

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There were also concerns surrounding Whitelock as captain, as well as Brodie Retallick. Both players decided to have stints in Japan, which may have played against them in this decision process. Furthermore, the Crusaders lock Whitelock is now 31 and there is no guarantee he will be at the top of the pile come 2023. 

Likewise, Cane’s injury issues over the past two years – chiefly his broken neck – have been a concern for some. But Foster’s contract is only for two years, so he is not looking ahead to the RWC in France in the same way some fans are. 

Decisions like this are always contentious, but the succession plan for the All Blacks captaincy has been fairly straightforward over the past two decades… from Reuben Thorne to Tana Umaga, to McCaw to Read. In this instance, though, it has been slightly more complex. 

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