Sam Cane will captain the All Blacks in their World Cup pool game against Namibia on Friday, an honour which could be the first of many for him.
Aged 23 and eight months, Chiefs flanker Cane will be the fifth youngest All Blacks captain ever. He will take over that ranking and the captain’s role from Richie McCaw, who was aged 23 and 10 months when he first captained the team in November 2004.
The youngest All Blacks test captain was Canterbury first-five Herbie Lilburne who was 21 years three months old when he captained the team in 1929.
For Cane, the honour of leading out the team on to London’s Olympic Stadium is a continuation of his important leadership role at the All Blacks, with coach Steve Hansen saying he had the potential to be a long-term captain.
“It’s a very special moment for 23-year-old Sam Cane who will captain the All Blacks for the first time,” Hansen said.
“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.”
Kieran Read, who, like McCaw has been named on a very experienced reserves bench for the test, is likely to take over the captaincy long-term once his Crusaders mate retires at the end of the year. But Cane is likely to play back-up and, while the 20th-ranked Namibia are likely to struggle to keep pace with the All Blacks from the first whistle, he will probably look back on this match as a defining moment in his career.
As expected, Hansen has given starting roles to almost every player not involved in the team’s hard-fought 26-16 victory over Argentina at Wembley.
Beauden Barrett, who shone as a replacement at fullback, will start at No10, with Colin Slade starting at fullback.
Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder retain their places on the wings, with Sonny Bill Williams and Malakai Fekitoa starting in what looks a powerful midfield.
In the pack, only lock Sam Whitelock retains his place. The front row of Ben Franks, Codie Taylor and Charlie Faumuina has pace, power and skill, and lock Luke Romano will be looking forward to his first World Cup match after missing selection for the Pumas match.
Experienced players Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu and Ben Smith have also been named on the eight-man bench which includes almost twice as many test caps as the starting XV.
“At the completion of this match, 30 of the 31 players in our squad will have experienced time in the middle of the park which will give us a good foundation base going forward and which was always part of our planning pre-tournament,” Hansen said.
“It’s now their time to step up.
“Five of our team will also be playing their first Rugby World Cup match so it’ll be a significant moment for them and their families as well.”
Hansen added: “The Namibian players will be excited by it too and it will be a great occasion at The Stadium on Thursday (UKT).”
All Blacks team to play Namibia at the Olympic Stadium on Friday, kick-off 7am NZT is:
15. Colin Slade
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder
13. Malakai Fekitoa
12. Sonny Bill Williams
11. Julian Savea
10. Beauden Barrett
9. TJ Perenara
8. Victor Vito
7. Sam Cane (c)
6. Liam Messam
5. Sam Whitelock
4. Luke Romano
3. Charlie Faumuina
2. Codie Taylor
1. Ben Franks
16. Keven Mealamu
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Tony Woodcock
19. Kieran Read
20. Richie McCaw
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
22. Ma’a Nonu
23. Ben Smith