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Why Sam Cane won't captain the All Blacks on end-of-year tour

By Alex McLeod

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Sam Whitelock has been announced as All Blacks captain for their end-of-year tour of the United States and Europe.

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All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree confirmed the news on Wednesday in a move that strips Ardie Savea of his leadership duties after having captained New Zealand to a Rugby Championship title in recent weeks.

It also means injury returnee Sam Cane, the full-time All Blacks captain, won’t resume his role as skipper after having come back from a six-month sideline spell as a result of a pectoral tear.

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With just one match for King Country in the Heartland Championship under his belt since March, Plumtree said appointing Cane as captain would have been too big of an ask as he continues his return to action.

Instead, the All Blacks will rely on the experience of Whitelock, who hasn’t played for the team since their second Bledisloe Cup win over the Wallabies in August after missing most of the Rugby Championship to stay in New Zealand and attend the birth of his third child.

“Sam Whitelock will be taking over the captaincy from Ardie,” Plumtree told reporters from Washington DC ahead of this weekend’s clash with the USA.

“Ardie’s been recognised for the great job that he did in Australia, winning the Rugby Championship. His style of leadership was fantastic, but it’s also great to have Sam come in with his experience.

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“He obviously couldn’t make the tour [to Australia] with his wife Hannah having a baby, but we think it’s good for the team now that Sam takes over.

“Obviously we’ve got Sam Cane here as well, but we feel that Sam just needs to focus on his game to get his game right. He’s been out for a long time and the added burden of captaincy wouldn’t be a good thing for his game right now.”

The decision to reappoint Whitelock as All Blacks captain comes after the 127-test veteran skippered New Zealand throughout the July test series against Tonga and Fiji, as well as for most of the Bledisloe Cup series.

Plumtree revealed that if Whitelock had been available for the Rugby Championship, he would have continued his role as the team’s captain in the absence of Cane, and labelled his reappointment as “the right thing to do”.

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“Had Sam been able to come to Australia, he’d still have been the captain right through until now, so the fact that his wife had to have a baby, he couldn’t travel with us,” Plumtree said.

“It certainly wasn’t his fault, so bringing him back in, for us, is the right thing to do, and the rest of the team is fine with that.

“Ardie did a really good job, and the leaders around Ardie did a really good job, and Ardie’s got a totally different style of leadership than Sam, but both are great, and so we’re just expecting to carry on as normal.”

Despite his demotion from the captaincy role, Savea will act as All Blacks vice-captain on the tour and remains an option to take charge of the side if Whitelock is rested for matches against the likes of the USA and Italy.

The same can’t be said for Cane, who is unlikely to captain the All Blacks until next year’s July test series against Ireland.

Until then, Plumtree said he wants the 29-year-old loose forward to use this tour as a chance to progress with his injury recovery.

“He’s obviously just had a little hit out with the King Country side and I had a good chat to Sam about it and he felt really confident in his body, and I think that’s the first step,” he said.

“The next step is him just getting a little bit of time out on the field and training as well, so he’ll get integrated back into this weekend at some point. No pressure on him. He’s just got to get out there and do his thing, but it will take a little bit of time.

“He has been out for a little while and maybe that tackle’s not quite as hard as it used to before. It will take a little bit of time. He’s been out for a fair while.”

Nevertheless, fans should expect Cane to resume his captaincy duties after this tour as Plumtree made it clear that nothing has changed about his status as the permanent All Blacks skipper after having been unveiled as Kieran Read’s successor last year.

“He’s been named as Ian Foster’s captain and nothing’s changed in that space, just a massive injury that he’s had to his shoulder,” Plumtree said.

“We’ll have to give him time to come right and get his game right before he can take responsibility of leading the All Blacks, which is obviously a massive one in terms of leadership.”

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Why Sam Cane won't captain the All Blacks on end-of-year tour

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