Sam Cane has stood down as All Blacks captain and might have played his final Test after signing a new three-year deal with Suntory.

The 32-year-old, who joined Suntory following the All Blacks’ 12-11 World Cup final loss to the Springboks after being granted a sabbatical by New Zealand Rugby, will be eligible to feature under Scott Robertson in 2024 but whether he is selected remains to be seen.

Cane hasn’t played since the end of January because of a knee injury and with the openside flanker’s future in Japan, Robertson could well decide the time is right to move on from Richie McCaw’s successor.

Robertson is not short of options to wear the No.7 jersey.

Sam Cane of New Zealand walks past the The Webb Ellis Cup following the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Ramos - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Sam Cane walks past the The Webb Ellis Cup following the All Blacks’ loss to the Springboks in the Rugby World Final at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris. (Photo by David Ramos – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Even before Cane’s Monday announcement, debate had long raged as to whether Ian Foster had compromised the All Blacks’ side by having the Chiefs flanker as his captain given the form of Ardie Savea.

By the end of his tenure, Foster played the duo together in the same back-row and had Blues loose-forward Dalton Papalii coming off the bench.

As it turned out, the All Blacks fell just one-point short of a fourth World Cup with Cane’s controversial first-half red a major talking point.

In a statement, Cane said he was hopeful he would feature again for the All Blacks under the new leadership but would stand down as captain despite still being contracted by NZR until year’s end.

“It’s part of the natural process that happens in rugby. I had my time as captain and it was a huge honour and privilege,” Cane said.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be selected in the All Blacks this year then I’ll still be myself.

“I love that team and I just want to see the All Blacks do well, so if part of my role is contributing leadership off the field or on the field, I’ll be happy to support the new captain as best as I can to help make it a smooth transition for the All Blacks.

“I’m really grateful for the time that I had to wear the captain’s armband. It was a huge honour and privilege – a lot of lessons out of it and growth.”

Sam Cane has been signed long-term by Eddie Jones’ Suntory. Photo: Getty Images

Cane, who made his debut against Ireland in 2012 and went on to play 95 Tests, said the opportunity to continue playing in Japan at Suntory, whose director of rugby is former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, was too good to turn down.

“A good opportunity came my way with Suntory Sungoliath willing to offer me a three-year contract,” Cane said.

“It was something we had to seriously consider as a family due to the stage I am at in my career. It will see me through to 2027 when I’ll have my 35th birthday.

“I’ve always thought that if I can play professional rugby for that length of time I’d be doing really well considering the position I play and the age that I started playing professionally.

“I had to weigh up everything and, in the end, with a young family it seemed like the best decision to help set up our future. It was a very hard one because I love the teams that I represent here in New Zealand.

“We obviously love this country, we love being around friends and family but we ultimately made the decision to sign with Suntory, which we’re really excited about. We have enjoyed our first year there and we just thought it was the best thing for our young family.”

Ardie Savea (2nd right) is one of the candidates to take over from Sam Cane as All Blacks captain. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Robertson – a former All Blacks back-rower – said he respected Cane’s decision to stand down.

“After discussing this at length with Sam, I fully understand the reasons behind his decision and support him,” Robertson said.

“The position he plays asks a lot of you mentally and physically – both of those things ramp up when you are captain. So to do what he’s done over such a long period is an incredible feat.

“I fully respect him taking this opportunity.”

By signing a long-term deal in Japan, Cane is ineligible to play for the All Blacks under the NZR’s eligiblity policy.

Scott Barrett, who captained the Crusaders under Robertson from 2020, is the favourite to take over from Cane.

Savea, who also skippered the All Blacks in the absence of Cane in recent years, is another candidate.





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