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Why Ardie Savea needs to be the next All Blacks captain under Robertson

By Ben Smith
Ardie Savea of New Zealand reacts during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Incoming All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson doesn’t seem to have made any decisions regarding who will captain the All Blacks in 2024.


As an ideas man, he will surely be weighing up the pros and cons of each candidate and the impact they will potentially have as he looks to take the majority of the squad who lost the Rugby World Cup final forward for a new chapter.

That candidate for Robertson’s captain has to be a player who will command selection in every Test and be present through to the 2027 Rugby World Cup, which narrows down the list.

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From those eligible players, the best candidate to kick-start the Robertson era is newly crowned World Player of the Year Ardie Savea.

Although Savea won’t feature in Super Rugby due to a playing sabbatical, he is returning to New Zealand and is contracted to NZR through to 2025.

The selection of Savea will have an uplifting impact on the All Blacks, the fans, and start Robertson’s era on the front foot with a fresh start.

Savea has personality, energy and mana to match Robertson’s, making for a powerful leadership duo.


The impact of handing Savea the captaincy will signal to the rest of the squad that this is not the Crusaders, and for Robertson, distance himself from the ‘Crusaders coach’ moniker as he establishes himself as the All Blacks head coach.

With Jason Ryan joining Robertson’s staff and the pair enjoying much success at the Crusaders, it’s an easy conclusion to draw that All Black selections will start to look very red and black, particularly in the engine room.

By choosing Savea over another likely candidate in Scott Barrett, the message is clear.

Any thoughts of Crusaders favouritism will be squashed, and signal to every other player in New Zealand that this is isn’t going to be a closed shop with a preference for players from Rugby Park.


But Savea is not just a better choice than Barrett because he hails from a different club.

There is an elephant in the room with the Crusaders lock that isn’t an issue with Savea, and that is discipline. Barrett has produced the kind of reckless moments that ended up costing the side.

Barrett now has two red cards as an All Black, once for receiving two yellows against South Africa recently and once after a dangerous clean out against Australia in 2019. He has five yellows and three reds since 2017 for the Crusaders and All Blacks.

Whether fair or not, the perception of Barrett is changing to a player who lives on the edge when it comes to physicality.

Former captain Richie McCaw was a player who lived on the edge of the laws, which is a big difference. Playing on the edge of physicality in this day an age is a recipe for disaster, and something a captain simply cannot afford to do.

Current captain Sam Cane had never been red carded as a professional rugby player until the Rugby World Cup final. The All Blacks cannot have another captain who ends up watching in the biggest games from the sidelines.

While Barrett is an automatic selection in the second row, if he wants to be an enforcer, then perhaps someone else needs to be the captain.

The leader has to set the example when it comes to discipline and although the Hurricanes No 8 has seen a fair share of yellow over his career (eight times), Savea has never been red carded as a professional rugby player.

When it comes to Sam Cane, moving on from the Chiefs openside as captain is necessary to close the door on the Ian Foster era.

That’s not to say Cane is done with the All Blacks, but his antics are arguably less than exemplary for a captain who is the face of the team and a multi-billion dollar brand.

Savea would be more likely to command a starting role in 2027 than Cane who will be nearing 36 years old by the time the World Cup rolls around in Australia.

Making the best player the captain is not always a straightforward answer, but Savea also brings experience in the role.

He has skippered in Cane’s absence on multiple occasions including during the Rugby World Cup final, the most pressure-filled game there is. He can keep growing in this regard with the full-time role.

Savea proudly proclaimed that Ian Foster “was his guy” during the turbulent times in 2022, sticking by the embattled head coach. For Robertson to make Savea his captain would be a powerful move.

In the wider landscape, the New Zealand public grew rather indifferent to the All Blacks despite their run to the World Cup final, with huge momentum growing behind the Warriors in the NRL.

10 years ago it would be unthinkable to say that the Warriors would topple the All Blacks as the most popular rugby team in New Zealand.

Well, the All Blacks are actually the next target as the Warriors have surpassed every single Super Rugby team in popularity. The energy behind them and the passionate fan base is enviable.

Going with Cane or Barrett just wouldn’t have the same impact as Savea as rugby tries to recapture the nation’s love.

It is not only the best move Robertson could make in this regard, but actually the best option considering everything else too.


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Nickers 156 days ago

I used to think this, but there have been a few instances recently where he has been too emotional, and let that guide his decision making to the team’s detriment.

He is an inspirational “follow me” type captain, I’m sure everyone in the team would go to war with him and no one works harder than him, but we also need someone who is ice cool under pressure. Ardie has shown he’s more likely to be red hot.

Having said that who else is going to do it?

Scott Barrett’s discipline is terrible. It’s hard to lead the team on discipline when, like Sam Cane, he makes so many poor decisions on the field.

If you go through the whole team there are no other contenders.

What is more likely that SB can fix his decision making, or Ardie can learn to stay cool under pressure?

George 195 days ago

Razor would be foolish to take the advice of the News Media. He has more in depth knowledge of the ABs than they do. Savea is not a good captain for the ABs because when he captains them they invariably lose. He also tends to lose form when he captains teams. Such as last season with the Hurricanes when he hardly figured when playing against the Chiefs.

Bob Marler 195 days ago

I thought Ardie too.

But if Ben smith thinks it’s a good idea - it’s a terrible idea.

Jon 196 days ago

Not always the best idea to make your best player captain. Ardie was all over the pitch in the final, making a difference. Being captain doesn’t make him hungrier, it just gives him more to do. From a distance, the ABs were like the Borg, relentless / faceless just a bunch of bodies in black who were all good / great in their positions. The ABs looked vulnerable this yr. The team needs more structure, more depth, and less star player BS. Telea missing the semi b/c the f’wit couldn’t understand ‘curfew’ is completely unacceptable for a top-side. I think the new AB capo needs to be a major hard-ass b/c the ABs lack discipline (something I don’t see very often). If the squad were self-discipline like the 2015 crew, you could have a creative capo like Ardie.

CO 196 days ago

I think the issue the Allblacks have is there isn't enough scrapping over positions.

The captain could rotate around a bit for the next couple of years as nobody really stands out.

Ardies been great but he has already captained most of a world cup final and they should've won and didn't take their kicks.

At 34 will he still be the Allblacks best option off the back of the scrum?

He's not the biggest forward and I expect he’ll be like Read was by 2019, a player not hitting or running like he was at 30. The difference being that Kieran was a lot taller and bigger.

Scott Barrett will also be 34 by the cup and with his tendency to do stupid stuff he isn't a great idea either.

The best option is the Allblacks to not actually have a captain, Razor just cap a heap of players for the next two years and have a captain for each test. Bring the uncertainty and conflict back into the Allblacks selection. The cream will rise to the top.

Most importantly bring back the Allblacks trial.

Michael 196 days ago

While there is absolute merit in the argument that Robertson should demonstrate a clear break from the Crusaders, I am not in agreement that Savea should be made captain.

Certainly, Savea can captain the ABs that’s not the issue - but is he a good captain. He does interact with the Ref well, and he certainly has the respect of the team. However, on many occasions because he gets so involved in the game, his decision-making is suspect.

There are countless examples where his “gung-ho” leadership has cost the ABs - the final RWC23 is one, decisions not to kick goals or set up drop goal was farcical. But this was the same in the 101st test against the Boks, where Ardie consistently turned down kicks at goal to go for the driving maul try - we lost by two points. Then there was the case in the dying minutes vs. England when Ardie called for TJ to do a chip kick instead of go deep; England recovered the ball and scored, effecting a comeback of 21 points in the last 8 minutes of the game to draw game.

Ardie is not a great #8, he makes do, but he would be so much better at #7 - Scott Barrett clearly has brain-farts when he plays, but he is the type of Buck Shelford character I believe the ABs now need to lead - We need to build back our power play

Pecos 196 days ago

Skipper will be Scooter Barrett.

Willie 196 days ago

Captain needs to be disciplined, share the coach’s philosophy and effectively communicate with refs. All else is secondary.

Gerald 197 days ago

Forgot to add. I am a Saffa so don’t get or worry about the issues between north and south, or Crusaders vs others. Simply the right guy.

Gerald 197 days ago

Don’t agree. He is a fantastic player, as his World player of year shows. But the ABs need to appoint a guy who can work closely with Robertson, and be a unifying face to the country and his team. Also a player who can keep his head when the game turns tough. Not sure I know who that might be? Scooter Barrett to me is right. Will work with Scott, have the respect and the support across team and country, and has mana. It will also get him to understand when to play on the edge, as he gets too many cards. But is the man.

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