Sam Whitelock's form and leadership for the Crusaders over the past two years meant selecting him as captain for the All Blacks wouldn't have been a difficult decision.

Chiefs loose forward Sam Cane was his nearest rival for the job in Kieran Read's absence, but Highlanders fullback Ben Smith was another.

Coach Steve Hansen said he and his fellow selectors mulled over the idea of co-captains - presumably Whitelock and Smith - a combination which would have been unique for the All Blacks, but in the end the Crusaders lock got the job for his outstanding qualities and fact he is a forward.

Having played 96 tests, he is also one of more experienced in the squad.

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Whitelock, who didn't play for the Crusaders against the Blues at Eden Park due to illness, made his captaincy debut for the All Blacks against Wales in Cardiff in November last year, the last test of 2017. It followed a remarkable season for the Crusaders, where he led the team to its first title in nine years, and he's followed it up with similar performances for the red and blacks this year.

Cane, who is carrying a slight abdominal injury, and Smith are vice-captains, with the former long earmarked as a possible replacement for Read and before him Richie McCaw.

But the 29-year-old Whitelock's form in his area has simply been irresistible and he has effectively overtaken Cane, who remains an important leader.

"Sammy [Whitelock] did a fantastic job last year with us in Wales," Hansen said. "We liked what we saw there but it could have easily have been Ben Smith or Sam Cane. Both of them are leading really well too.

"We do like the idea of having someone up front having a voice and being able to communicate straight away with the ref and being able to drive that and hence why we've named a vice-captain in Sam Cane. We want clarity if we do lose Sam [Whitelock] to an injury or sub him during the game."