The 'obvious choice' to fill All Blacks captaincy void
SPOTLIGHT: A pair of Super Rugby stars have weighed in on the debate on who should fill in for Sam Cane as All Blacks captain over the coming months.
Cane was last week ruled out of action for four-to-six months after he sustaining a pectoral injury, meaning he is likely to miss the scheduled July Test matches against Italy and Fiji.
The 29-year-old is also in doubt for at least the beginning of the Rugby Championship, which normally kicks-off in mid-August and runs through until early October.
Cane’s absence means All Blacks head coach Ian Foster will have to call upon another squad member to fill the captaincy void left by the 74-Test flanker.
Former Blues hooker James Parsons and current Crusaders scrumhalf Bryn Hall were synonymous in their views on who should take over as interim All Blacks captain during their latest appearance on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
Both players believed veteran lock Sam Whitelock has the experience, ability and credentials to stand as a frontrunner in the race to replace Cane.
The 32-year-old was Cane’s main challenger to succeed Kieran Read as full-time All Blacks captain after the 2019 World Cup, having captained the national side in a one-off Test against Wales in 2017.
The 122-test lock also captained the Crusaders to three consecutive Super Rugby titles between 2017 and 2019, and that record of success, according Hall, speaks for itself.
“You look at Sam Whitelock, who’s done it before and, for me personally, that’s the direction I’d go in, with Sam. He’s a guy who’s proven at that level,” Hall said of his Crusaders teammate.
“It wouldn’t be new to him, and he’s been successful when he’s done that and, again, he’s had that time with us, with the Crusaders, being able to captain us for three years and have success.
“I think for the fact that he’s had so much experience as well, it’ll just be an easy transition for him.
“I think that Sam’s [Cane] going to come back and he’ll end up getting that back, but I think we just want a bit of a transition for that four or five months… I’d probably say Sam [Whitelock] would be the option that I’d go for.”
Parsons, a two-Test All Black himself, agreed with Hall’s sentiments as he suggested Whitelock’s brief stint in Japan’s Top League last year, which was cut short due to COVID-19, did wonders for his longevity.
“Sam Whitelock’s done the job before, he’s got the experience and it’s not going to be such a big adjustment to the group because you know he’s going to be selected, purely because of his form at the moment,” Parsons said.
“I think he’s playing some of his best footy. His stint in Japan and he’s come back from that and he’s playing some seriously good code and almost lifting his standards to a higher level, which I think is exciting for him, but also for the All Blacks.
“I think the captaincy brings the best out of him, so what it would do for him and his game will be great.”
Parsons added that the loss of Cane gives the All Blacks the chance to further develop the leadership qualities of other high-ranking members of the All Blacks squad who have flourished in captaincy capacities in Super Rugby.
Among those he considered to be in the running to accompany Whitelock in assuming leadership responsibilities included Dane Coles, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett, who will return to the All Blacks once his commitments with Suntory Sungoliath have concluded later this year.
“I think there’s a few opportunities for others, not just whoever gets the captaincy, but others to step into that leadership space as well that have been doing a great job for their teams at Super Rugby level as well.”
Hall added Highlanders co-captain Aaron Smith to that list as he indicated the 97-Test scrumhalf could act as a vice-captain for the All Blacks, but Parsons was adamant that Whitelock “was the obvious choice” to assume the captaincy role in Cane’s absence.
“I just think Sam Whitelock has done it before, we don’t need too much ruffling or reshaping. We know it’ll bring the best out of him.
“It won’t distract from the group, but then I was just trying to take it another level [by suggesting other captain candidates] to show that there is space and movement, because we can’t just expect that Sam can play 80 minutes every week as well.”
Alex McLeod (@RugbyPass)