Rugby World Cup: All Blacks weakened by coach Ian Foster's loyalty to captain Sam Cane, claims English commentator Stuart Barnes

Former England international Stuart Barnes has taken another potshot at All Blacks captain Sam Cane, claiming coach Ian Foster has weakened his Rugby World Cup squad by retaining his skipper.

Writing in The Times, Barnes insists Cane's inclusion in the starting line-up would undermine a loose forward combination better served with Dalton Papali'i in the No.7 jersey.

"Loyalty is a great trait," he wrote. "It can also be a fundamental weakness in a manager.

"There is a murky area between being loyal and ruthless. The managers of New Zealand and Australia are on opposite sides from one another.

Sam Cane & Stuart Barnes.
Sam Cane & Stuart Barnes. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Foster may seem the more decent man, but innate decency doesn't win you trophies."

Barnes has praised Wallabies and former England coach Eddie Jones for dropping injury-prone flanker Michael Hooper, opting for lock Will Skelton as his captain at the World Cup in France.

By contrast, he slams Foster for retaining Cane, who has been a regular target for Barnes over recent seasons.

"While Jones made the decision to omit his openside captain, Ian Foster has stuck with Sam Cane and weakened his team in the process. The All Blacks' best back row has no room for the 31-year-old Cane.

"Ritchie McCaw lifted the World Cup twice from openside, but Cane is no McCaw. He's taken a lot of injuries through a career in which he has looked less and less like the great Kiwi flanker with every knock."

Twelve months ago, as Foster faced a challenge to his stewardship, Barnes described the All Blacks as "dumb" in their historic home defeat to Argentina at Christchurch and called for Cane's axing from the team.

"I don't think they've ever really replaced McCaw as a captain and the appointment of Ian Foster - who is a very smart rugby man and a good coach, but not necessarily the No.1 - has left them in a hole," he told AM.

"Foster saw Sam Cane as his man. I don't think Cane is good enough to wear an NZ No.7 shirt, let alone be captain.

"I think you've got this waterfall of problems all the way down from appointment of Foster, through to the appointment of Cane, through to decision-making and you end up with one real leader in Ardie Savea, but he's being asked to do so much."

Since that assessment, the All Blacks - under Foster and Cane - have compiled an 11-game unbeaten run, securing back-to-back Rugby Championships and retaining the Bledisloe Cup for a 21st straight year.

Barnes, who played 10 tests for England from 1984-93, also criticises Foster's selection of Will Jordan at fullback in their latest outing against Australia, raising questions over Beauden Barrett's starting role and his key contribution to New Zealand's kicking game.

Will Jordan in action for the All Blacks.
Will Jordan in action for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

"Beauden Barrett has been named in this week's World Cup squad as a flyhalf, yet his kicking game from fullback - along with that of Richie Mo'unga (flyhalf) and his brother Jordie (inside centre) - has been the structure of New Zealand's game," Barnes wrote in The Times

"If the electrifying Jordan plays at fullback - where he is listed in the 33-man squad - and Barrett becomes a bench option, the entire kick stratgey will be undermined.

"It seems inconceivable that New Zealand might throw away the clever kicking game, but selection has been their undoing under Foster."

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