All Blacks: Sam Whitelock captain, five uncapped players named to face Tonga, Fiji

Veteran lock Sam Whitelock will lead an All Blacks squad featuring five rookies into tests against Tonga and Fiji next month.

With incumbent skipper Sam Cane sidelined by a pectoral (chest) injury, Whitelock - who deputised for previous skipper Kieran Read five times - was a natural choice to lead the 36-man group, as the national side open their 2021 international campaign against the Pacific Islanders.

Highlanders prop Ethan De Groot, Crusaders loose forward Ethan Blackadder, Blues halfback Finlay Christie and Chiefs midfielder Quinn Tupaea are newcomers to the All Blacks group, while Crusaders prop George Bower remains uncapped, after a stint with the team last year.

Coach Ian Foster insists Whitelock, 32, was an easy choice to fill the captaincy void.

"Sam Whitelock is the right man for the job," he says. "He's hugely experienced, not just as a player, but also as a leader, and he has great connections with Sam Cane and the leaders in the team as well."

The second-rower, who led the Crusaders to three consecutive Super Rugby crowns from 2017-19, found out about his appointment earlier this month, but kept it under his hat until Monday's official announcement.

"I actually didn't tell Mum and Dad, so they just found out now," he told Sky's Breakdown. "They were ringing and asking 'have you heard anything?', but I gave them nothing.

"Sorry to do that to Mum and Dad, but really nice they got to find out with everyone else."

With injuries to Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown, and the departure of Ngani Laumape to France, All Blacks selectors have brought Tupaea into a midfield group that also sees Crusaders utility David Havili return, after playing at fullback in 2017.

Front rowers Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi are also unavailable through injury, with De Groot and Bower earning their opportunity on Super Rugby form.

After an off-contract stint in Japan, back-up halfback TJ Perenara has yet to fulfill his eligibility for selection, so Christie is also rewarded for his contribution to the Blues' Trans-Tasman success, while Blackadder follows in the footsteps of father and former national captain Todd Blackadder.

Unluckiest players to miss out are perhaps Crusaders teammates Liecester Fainga'anuku and Cullen Grace.

The All Blacks will take on Tonga at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium on July 3, with subsequent tests against Fiji on July 10 (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin) and July 17 (FMG Stadium, Hamilton).

All Blacks: Sam Whitelock captain, five uncapped players named to face Tonga, Fiji


Props: Nepo Laulala, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Tyrel Lomax, George Bower, Angus Ta’avao, Ethan De Groot

Hookers: Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Asafo Aumua

Locks: Sam Whitelock (captain), Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupo Vaa'i

Loose forwards: Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Ethan Blackadder, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson


Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Finlay Christie

First-fives: Richie Mo'unga, Beauden Barrett

Midfielders: Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown

Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, George Bridge