Speculation is growing that Sam Cane could be replaced as All Blacks captain
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All Blacks captain Sam Cane (R) and manager Ian Foster after the third Test loss to Ireland.
Pressure is mounting on the All Blacks after another report that Sam Cane could be set to lose the captaincy for the two-Test trip to South Africa as the fallout from the defeat in Ireland continues.
Earlier this week, Stuff indicated that a potential scenario would be for the Crusaders to lock down Sam Whitelock taking charge of the Rugby Championship openers against the Springboks in early August, with new Joe Schmidt playing a practical role in the Ian Foster’s coaching staff.
The Otago Daily Times reported on Thursday that a source had confirmed that Cane could be replaced by Whitelock in a team announcement on Friday.
The appointment of Rugby Championship teams – usually announced immediately after the start of the season Tests – was delayed this week due to the review of NZ Rugby in Ireland’s 2-1 series reverse.
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The official reason is that it took longer to assess the injury status of some players, but the All Blacks management were unable to confirm. Things when the team will be announced.
The delay may also have given the All Blacks more time to sort out any changes to the captaincy or coaching staff.
New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick fractured his cheekbone after colliding with Irish prop Andrew Porter, who was shown a yellow card on third down.
Whitelock, 33, has 134 caps – second only to Richie McCaw. He has captained the All Blacks 14 times since 2017, including eight Tests last year when Cane was injured. The All Blacks have won six games in 2021 and lost two – against Ireland in Dublin and France in Paris – with Whitelock at the helm.
A report from Stuff on Thursday said Southland and Highlanders loose stalwart Ethan de Groot is likely to be called up to the squad, and Crusaders No 8 Cullen Grace could be added to the loose forwards division after solid Super Rugby form before impressing for the Māori All Blacks. against Ireland.
The Otago Daily Times report also speculated that the duo were close to joining the All Blacks, who are due to assemble in Auckland on Monday to prepare for the flight to Johannesburg.
Grace, who made his All Blacks debut against Australia in November 2020, is not in Canterbury’s squad for Friday’s pre-season game against Tasman Mako at Hanmer Springs. He could either rest from his Maori All Blacks jobs – or pack his bags for a South African safari.
De Groot, however, was named to play Southland’s top tier against Otago at Invercargill on Friday.
Adding Grace to the back line would give the All Blacks another No.8 specialist, alongside Blues 10 Test player Hoskins Sotutu, who was not used against Ireland.
More options at No 8 would allow Ardie Savea – the All Blacks star of the Irish series – to play his natural role as an openside flanker in place of Cane, who failed against Ireland to match his All Blacks impact of yesteryear.
Former All Blacks loose striker Ian Kirkpatrick and Alex Wyllie said Things this week that the Test backrow was to go to specialists, rather than attempting – as Foster did for the second Test loss in Dunedin – to play three natural sevens, Savea, Cane and Dalton Papali’i together.
The All Blacks take on the world champions Springboks in Mbombela on August 7 and Ellis Park in Johannesburg a week later.