Sam Cane named as All Blacks captain

By Gregor Paul in Rome

Sam Cane has been named cpatin of the All Blacks ahead of their clash with Italy this weekend. Photo/file
Sam Cane has been named cpatin of the All Blacks ahead of their clash with Italy this weekend. Photo/file

Sam Cane has been named to captain the All Blacks ahead of their clash with Italy this weekend.

It will be the Bay of Plenty Steamer and Chief's second taste of captaincy in a side that has an average age of 25 and an average of 22 caps. As a contrast, the All Blacks team that took the field in the last World Cup final had an average age of 29 and an average of 65 caps per player.

Three of that 2015 team - Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Ma' Nonu - had between them more caps than the entire starting XV that will play Italy at Stadio Olimpico on Sunday morning.

This is one of the youngest and least experienced All Blacks teams in almost a decade and one whose potential clearly excites head coach Steve Hansen.

There are 12 changes from the team that started against Ireland - Cane, Patrick Tuipulotu and Waisake Naholo are the only survivors as the priority this week is partly being driven by the need to rest a handful of senior players ahead of what will certainly be demanding tests against Ireland and France.

There are two new caps are on the bench - Rieko Ioane and Liam Coltman - and there are second appearances for Scott Barrett at lock and Damian McKenzie at fullback.

Steven Luatua is recalled at No 8 for his first start in two years and both he and Elliot Dixon, who will win his third cap on the blindside, have been asked to show their physicality and aggression.

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With Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden providing play-making guidance, there are steady hands on the tiller and Israel Dagg will offer a strong voice in the back three.

"There was always going to be regardless of what happened in Chicago," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. "It is that time of year - if we don't make changes we are going to run out of petrol and it is an opportunity for some people to tell us what they have got at this level.

"The midfield is probably a little different because we don't have many options there but pretty much yes [it is the team they always planned to pick."

The inclusion of Leinert-Brown, McKenzie and Ioane means the three youngest men in the tour party are all going to be involved. Leinert-Brown has established in his six tests so far that he is cut out for this level and Hansen is hoping that McKenzie and Ioane can do the same, because as well as being the youngest, these two possess outrageous talent.

McKenzie was one of the stars of the Super Rugby season and had a 20-minute cameo in Buenos Aires which may have opened his eyes to the true nature of test football.

"That test rugby is different to Super," says Hansen of what he hopes McKenzie will have learned. "You don't have as much time and things are a lot quicker and you have got to control the football. That is the big work-on for him. Even in the Maori game the other day, he had three runs and turned the ball over twice.

"We will be looking for him to look after the rugby ball in the contact. He's not a big man - we all know that, but he's got other attributes that make him an international quality player. He's got to adjust to the speed of the game and use those qualities to his advantage.

"Rieko is all about work ethic and growing that. He knows that and understands that and is doing his best to do that. He's a big boy and he's quick, one of the quickest if not the quickest in the team.

"We want to see him touch the ball a lot on attack. Defensively the other night for the Maori he was outstanding. We want to see him touch the ball as often as he can on Saturday and in the right places."

The matchday 23 is (with Test caps in brackets):
1. Wyatt Crockett (55)
2. Codie Taylor (12)
3. Charlie Faumuina (43)
4. Patrick Tuipulotu (11)
5. Scott Barrett (1)
6. Elliot Dixon (2)
7. Sam Cane - captain (38)
8. Steven Luatua (14)
9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (24)
10. Aaron Cruden (44)
11. Waisake Naholo (9)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (6)
13. Malakai Fekitoa (21)
14. Israel Dagg (58)
15. Damian McKenzie (1)

16. Liam Coltman *
17. Joe Moody (21)
18. Ofa Tu'ungafasi (3)
19. Brodie Retallick (57)
20. Matt Todd (6)
21. Aaron Smith (55)
22. Lima Sopoaga (5)
23. Rieko Ioane *

- NZ Herald

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