Rugby: Veteran Sam Whitelock philosophical over missing All Blacks captaincy

Veteran All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock admits he would love to have taken on the captain's role at international level, but has pledged his support to the new skipper

During coronavirus lockdown, national coach Ian Foster took the slightly unusual step of naming Chiefs flanker Sam Cane as NZ captain, replacing Kieran Read, who stepped down after last year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.

After leading the Crusaders to three consecutive Super Rugby crowns, many expected Whitelock, 31, who had acted as Read's deputy on occasion, to take the All Blacks role, but he was overlooked for the younger man, three years his junior. 

"I would love to have had the opportunity, after having a taste of it in previous years," he says. "But at the same time, I know there's so much that goes into it and you don't need the captaincy armband to help people out and make a difference.

"Sam's going to need all the help and support he can get from everyone that's in the All Black environment, and I'm keen to help him out wherever I can.

"There's definitely some upsides to me worrying about himself playing first and then helping him out where I can, if he needs it."

Sam Whitelock on the bench at Rugby World Cup
Sam Whitelock on the bench at Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

Many have interpreted the captaincy selection as a further sign that the All Blacks had switched from the Steve Hansen-Richie McCaw-Kieran Read Canterbury powerbase to a more northern influence.

Foster first introduced the teenaged Cane to Super Rugby in 2012, when he held the Chiefs reins.

"'Fozzie' rang me a couple of days before the announcement to give me a heads up, so I was very thankful to get that heads up before it was released," says Whitelock.

"It allowed me to work out how I can help Sam and help Fozzie... and where I can have that greatest influence and impact.

"Being one of the older members of the NZ rugby community, I have to make sure I pass on the knowledge that a lot of the older guys did for me."

The All Blacks were scheduled to face Wales and Scotland at home next month, but the mid-year tests have been postponed.

Their next fixture is a Bledisloe Cup encounter against Australian on August 15, although that now clashes with the final round of the rebooted Super Rugby Aotearoa format.

Whitelock has returned to New Zealand early from a Japanese stint curtailed by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and has rejoined the Crusaders for the new competition, due to begin on June 13.

In his absence, second-row partner Scott Barrett was replaced him as a rookie Crusaders skipper, leaving Whitelock again playing a support leadership role.

"'Scooter' has been awesome the last three days at training," he says. "He's leading really well and he's got some great guys around him.

"For me, it's about slotting back in and watching, listening and seeing what's happening, then commenting, or getting up alongside Scooter and saying, 'Have you thought about this?'

"You've almost got to let him go and, myself, I have to make sure I don't speak too much, but help out where I can.

"I'm looking forward to that challenge - it's going to be completely different to what I've had over the past three years."

The Crusaders enjoy a bye in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Rugby: Veteran Sam Whitelock philosophical over missing All Blacks captaincy