Sam Cane’s likely openside successor tips his next All Blacks captain

Colin Newboult
Sam Cane for the All Blacks during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Sam Cane for the All Blacks during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

All Blacks back-row, and Sam Cane’s potential long-term successor in the openside jersey, Dalton Papali’i has revealed who he thinks could take over.

Cane has ruled himself out of the captaincy debate after announcing his decision to retire from internationals following the 2024 season.

The 32-year-old is still available for New Zealand selection this year, but head coach Scott Robertson will likely look elsewhere as a result of his call on Monday.

The obvious candidate

There are a few candidates available to Robertson, including Scott Barrett, but Papali’i feels that Ardie Savea is the obvious name to fill that prestigious position heading into the next Rugby World Cup.

“I don’t really have a say but last year when Sam Cane was injured, Ardie stood up in that position and he might be the next captain,” the Blues back-row said.

“Who knows, especially with the new coaching staff and all that, I think it’s all pretty different.

“But since Sam Cane’s off, I think Ardie – it’s my liking for him to be there.”

With Cane deciding to depart the international arena, that has opened the door for Papali’i to become the All Blacks’ next long-term openside.

The 26-year-old has already earned 32 caps but the talented Blues flanker has not truly established himself as first choice back-row in the XV.

He has now been presented with that opportunity as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Richie McCaw and Cane.

Who will Scott Robertson pick to take over the All Blacks captaincy from retiring Sam Cane?

“They (McCaw and Cane) were both leaders,” Papali’i said. “They were both All Black captains, so those are pretty big boots to fill, to be honest.

“But the good thing that we talk about is you don’t own the jersey, you just fill it with your legacy.

“I’m not going to try and be like Richie McCaw or be like Sam Cane, I want to fill it with my own flavour and my own personality.

“It’s going to be interesting. I’m still focusing on the Blues here, so I haven’t really thought of that at the moment, but with Sam Cane – getting to play with him and seeing the character he is and the man he is – it was a bloody privilege to be in a team with him and be captained by him.”

Seeing off the youngsters

Papali’i will still have to prove himself to Robertson in Super Rugby Pacific, but that has gone well so far with the Blues at the summit.

The Auckland-based outfit recently overcame their closest rivals the Hurricanes, who included talented duo Peter Lakai and Du’Plessis Kirifi in the back-row.

Those two have put their hands up for All Blacks selection in 2024 and Papali’i believes that competition can only be a positive for the national team.

“Young guys are coming through and showing their worth and it’s awesome. It gets the best out of everyone,” he said.

“When Sam Cane was there, we battled it out, but it brought the best out of each other.

“Peter Lakai, Du’Plessis, all the guys that are coming through are really pushing boundaries there, so it makes everyone better.”

READ MORE: All Blacks captain Sam Cane to retire from Test rugby in ‘best decision’ for his family