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A story of two Sams: Whitelock to skipper All Blacks tour while Cane has to earn starting spot

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Expert
20th October, 2021
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The All Blacks have confirmed that Sam Whitelock will lead the team on their northern hemisphere tour over the coming weeks with Sam Cane needing to focus on his performance before being considered for reclaiming the captain’s armband.

Assistant coach, John Plumtree, confirmed that the returning lock will be captain for the entire tour, starting with the first Test against the USA this Sunday and continuing with the All Blacks four Tests in Europe.

The match against the USA will be Whitelock’s first since mid-August with the second-rower having been away from the team on parental duties as his third child was born during the Rugby Championship. The plan had been that he would play in the final match against the Springboks but a quarantine timing issues prevented him from joining the All Blacks in Queensland.

Samuel Whitelock of the All Blacks tackles James O'Connor of the Wallabies

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The news that backrower Sam Cane is part of the All Blacks squad is positive news but the fact that Cane has not retaken the captain’s duties raises some interesting questions about his future.

Cane has been a wonderful player for the All Blacks but a number of serious injuries have seen him spend long periods of time in recovery.

With Cane playing just one club game since his most recent injury that required surgery on his chest and shoulder in April, Plumtree explained that the decision had been made to give the Chiefs man time to play his way back into the starting line-up without the added pressure of the captain’s role.

“Sam just needs to focus on his game to get his game right. He has been out for a long time. The added burden of captaincy wouldn’t be good for his game right now,” explained Plumtree this week.

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It is certainly true that Cane has been out for a while but can you imagine Richie McCaw having to play his way back into the team before regaining the captaincy during his time with the All Blacks? The reality is that Cane is no longer an obvious first choice in a New Zealand back-row with Plumtree and Ian Foster having plenty of talent and experience to pick from currently.

With Plumtree setting expectations that they are assuming it will take Cane a while to get up to speed, one does start to wonder whether the 74 internationally capped hero is part of the longer-term plans for the All Blacks.

“He has just got to get out there and do his thing. But it will take a little bit of time,” Plumtree said.

All Blacks legend Buck Shelford said in early October that he feared for Cane’s future. “He is always probably one injury away from retirement from rugby, especially if it’s to the head,” Shelford told Newstalk ZB.

Sam Cane of the All Blacks looks on

Sam Cane. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

While the result of Sunday’s clash between the All Blacks and the USA might be a foregone conclusion, the match is an important one for the host nation.

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Republican congressman, Alex Mooney, called on Americans to fill the Fed-X Field stadium and said in Congress that the game would be “an important barometer for the United States’ ability to host future world-class events, including the Rugby World Cup.”

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Mooney co-chairs the congressional rugby caucus and encouraged fans to come and see the All Blacks, who he called “the world’s most famous rugby club.”

Which of the two Sams will be leading this famous rugby club in 2022 will be fascinating to see.

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