All Blacks v France: Sam Whitelock relishes Sam Cane's return to starting side for final test of 2021

All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock welcomes starting alongside former skipper Sam Cane when his side take the field against France in Paris on Sunday morning.

Cane, 29, will start just his second test of 2021 on Sunday as the All Blacks finish their season against France, looking to avoid a second-straight defeat following last week's 29-20 loss to Ireland.

After missing the early part of the 2021 season after suffering a ruptured pectoral muscle playing for the Chiefs in Super Rugby Aotearoa, Cane has seen Whitelock assume the All Blacks' captaincy in order to allow him to return to full speed without the burden of leadership.

Cane's first start of the year came in the 47-9 victory against Italy earlier this month, after coming off the bench in the 104-14 win against USA to begin their northern tour.

For Whitelock though, the return of Cane to the All Blacks' first XV is a welcome boost to the side after being comprehensively outplayed in Dublin.

And regardless of which player is leading the All Blacks on Sunday, Whitelock insists that leadership in the side is a shared duty among the senior leadership group.

"It's been great having Cane-o back this week," Whitelock says.

"It's something that definitely helps myself. Sam's a very experienced player, has his own leadership ability - which is nice for me to bounce ideas off.

"Having another senior voice out there is really good."

"It's something that I've always said, it's never down to one person to lead this team, it's down to a number of people.

"Sam's one of those key guys. Sometimes, people don't understand how much people lead, whether they're starting, coming off the bench, or not even in the 23.

Aside from Cane, the All Blacks are also fielding the likes of Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Ardie Savea in the starting XV - all of whom boast captaincy experience at either test or club level.

And even the likes of Codie Taylor and Beauden Barrett - who won't feature on Sunday - have contributed as leaders during the All Blacks' preparations for their final test of the year, a feat that Whitelock emphasises is a major part of the team's culture.

"There's been a couple of guys out from our leadership group this game through injury, and they've done an outstanding job as well," he adds.

"It's not just the captain leading, or the two or three senior players. It takes leadership across the whole team to achieve what we want to achieve.

"That's something I've definitely driven this week, and as a leadership group I think we've nailed that pretty well this week - having the balance of who speaks, and when they do speak."

A defeat on Sunday would see the All Blacks as having lost three tests in a year for the first time since 2009 - where Sir Graham Henry's side were defeated four times.

Join Newshub for live updates of the All Blacks v France from 9am Sunday.