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