- Publish Date
- Wednesday, 6 May 2020, 8:24AM
Sam Cane kept his anointment as All Blacks captain secret for the past two months.
In his first major decision as All Blacks coach, Ian Foster opted for Cane's leadership qualities over Sam Whitelock, the centurion lock whom many believed had been groomed to succeed Kieran Read.
Cane debuted for the All Blacks in 2012 and first captained the team three years later at the World Cup against Namibia aged 23. He has played 68 tests, leading the team three times, and has been in the leadership group six years.
As a fellow flanker, from day one Cane absorbed lessons from Richie McCaw and he now gets the chance to follow in his footsteps, and those of Read, as a long-term leader.
"There's no doubt that sitting in those meetings with some of the legends of the game has increased my knowledge and leadership style," Cane told Sky Sport's Breakdown show. "Leadership is one of those things you grow into over time. You learn more about yourself, about the game, you learn to trust your teammates. It's not all on your shoulders."
After being asked by Foster to assume the All Blacks leadership mantle, Cane was told to keep the role to himself and shared the news only with wife Harriet and his parents.
"It had to sit on it a wee while due to Covid-19, so it's been a couple of months now. Fozzie got in touch and we had a good chat about rugby.
"At the end of the conversation, he asked if I was up for the job and he'd like me to take it on. He said no pressure and I had a week to think about it.
"To be honest, I was pretty ecstatic. After talking to my wife Harriet and my mum and dad, it became pretty clear that's what I wanted to do. I'm confident enough I'll do a good job."
Cane will face plenty of challenges in the new All Blacks era which follows last year's World Cup semifinal defeat to England, which he started on the bench.
But having battled back from a broken neck, suffered against the Springboks in Pretoria in October 2018, he is well placed to tackle further adversity.
"If I reflect back, it seems like a long time ago. It's a pretty crazy turnaround. I feel very lucky to be able to play rugby from that first and foremost, and to be asked to take on this job, it's pretty special."
Foster consulted All Blacks selector Grant Fox and new assistant coach John Plumtree but said he felt sure about the decision for some time. He hailed Cane's physically abrasive style as one of the hardest hitters in the game, his ability to relate to all players and his direct and demanding questioning of teammates as standout qualities.
"It's been my gut feel for a while," Foster told the Breakdown. "We've got some great leaders in our team. This wasn't a question on the one person who could do the job, it was about which person it suited.
"Sam has got the respect of the changing room; he trains hard, he walks the talk. He's a straight shooter. He likes to think a lot about the game and where players are at and he wants real clarity.
"He can annoy you at times – he comes and asks a lot of questions and he challenges. That's exactly what we want out of an All Blacks captain.
"He'll lead a very experienced leadership group when you add in the likes of Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith. I'm really confident in the quality of people we've got but I'm also confident he's the right guy.
"I'd like to think he can put his hand up for a number of years."
In these strange times, with rugby unlikely to resume until at least mid-June and the All Blacks' three home tests in July set to be postponed, Cane will have to wait some time yet before he gets the chance to start his reign.
"It's a bit of a funny one being named All Blacks captain but I'm unsure if I'm going to get the chance to lead the boys this year," Cane said.
"We've had one All Blacks leadership meeting to get things rolling and Fozzie led that really well. I think maybe in a month's time, we'll have another one. Normally around this time of the season, we get together in the lead-up to the first campaign but it's all via Zoom at the moment."
In the weeks since accepting the position, Cane has thought about the leadership style he wants to impart on the All Blacks.
"I'd like to be very inclusive and build good relationships with all the guys in the squad. The younger guys are a massive part of any team, so it's important to get around them, so when the time comes for a stern word, you know it's coming from a caring place.
"I enjoy hearing other peoples' opinions and that helps form my own. I'll be very much encouraging of everyone to step up and be themselves and hear them out.
"You just have to look at the quality we've got in that team – there's plenty of guys with more experience than me and they're probably a lot smarter, too, so I'm not afraid to be wrong. As long as we get the right answers as a group, then it's a win."
Cane's captaincy will have implications for Ardie Savea's loose forward position but, for now, those wider spinoffs can wait.
In many ways, his selection as skipper represents the first statement of the Foster era.
"I can only liken it to the first time you get named as an All Black. It's a massive honour and that's how I feel at the moment. It's a privilege to be asked to do this role.
"It's not really something you got out chasing, to be a captain of any team, you just want to play rugby, but over the years you learn, grow and evolve, and if you get the opportunity and it fits, that's great. I'm really looking forward to the challenge."
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission