Sam Cane will lead New Zealand against Namibia on Thursday and could be in line to take over the role permanently when Richie McCaw retires
Is there a more iconic jersey in rugby than the All Black No 7 jersey?
In the last three decades alone, we’ve seen Michael Jones, the greatest player of his generation, followed by Josh Kronfeld, one of the stars of the 1995 and 1999 World Cups.
Richie McCaw followed Kronfeld and has rewritten almost every record in the book, the most capped player of all time looks a good bet to become the first man to captain a team to back-to-back World Cups and is regarded by many as the greatest player of all time.
However on Thursday he’ll be on the bench as New Zealand rest most of their key men for a clash with minnows Namibia.
The enormous gulf in standard between the teams – Namibia are at best the 19th best team in the competition – means that we will learn very little about the All Blacks on the pitch.
But Steve Hansen’s decision to give the captaincy to Sam Cane for the game, tells us a great deal about how the Chiefs openside is regarded.
When he first broke through for the All Blacks, there looked to be a number of contenders to be McCaw’s back-up, including his Crusaders teammate Matt Todd.
Still only 20, Cane was given his shot in 2012, and has been part of the squad almost ever since.
Despite being a specialist seven, he’s leapfrogged Liam Messam to be the first choice back row cover, and his performance off the bench against Argentina showed just how good he is.
However few would have expected him to get the captaincy at the tender age of 23, especially with club captain Messam starting alongside him, and Keven Mealamu also starting the game.
“He’s in our leadership group, is hugely respected by everyone, is a fierce and fearless player and is someone who has the potential of being a long-term captain of the All Blacks in the future,” explained Hansen.
The decision itself implied that Cane was being lined up as a future skipper, and Hansen merely confirmed that when revealing the team.
Cane will have to wait until the end of the tournament to get the seven jersey full-time, although his performance off the bench, and McCaw’s ability to play across the backline might see the two of them start a pool game together.
With McCaw set to retire after the tournament though, it looks like Todd, Ardie Savea and the rest of the up-and-coming opensides in New Zealand, will have a job on their hands to displace Cane.