Whitelock to captain All Blacks on US, Europe tour

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Sam Whitelock of New Zealand sings the national anthem during the rugby test match against Tonga in Auckland on July 3. AFP

Veteran lock Sam Whitelock will captain the All Blacks on their five-Test tour of the US and Europe, New Zealand team officials confirmed on Tuesday, replacing temporary skipper ArdieSavea.

All Blacks forwards coach John Plumtree said the 33-year-old Whitelock would lead the team for the duration of the tour, which gets underway against the United States in Washington on Saturday.

Whitelock missed the last five All Blacks Test matches, all staged in Australia, after remaining in New Zealand for the birth of his third child.

Savea skippered the Kiwis to victory in the Rugby Championship, standing in for long-term captain Sam Cane, who is working his way back from injury.

Although Cane has returned to the New Zealand squad for the northern hemisphere tour, Plumtree said the back rower was being given more time to concentrate on his form and fitness.

“Sam Whitelock will be taking over the captaincy from Ardie,” Plumtree told reporters on a video call.

“Ardie’s been recognised for the great job that he did in Australia – winning the Rugby Championship was fantastic.

“But it’s also great to have Sam [Whitelock] come in with his experience. Obviously he couldn’t make the tour to Australia. We think it’s good for the team now that he takes over.”

Asked about Cane’s captaincy status, Plumtree added: “We feel that Sam [Cane] just needs to focus on his game, he’s been out for a long time. The added burden of captaincy wouldn’t be a good thing for his game right now.”

Plumtree said Cane was still head coach Ian Foster’s captain in the long-term.

“He’s been named as Ian Foster’s captain and nothing has changed in that space, just a massive injury to his shoulder,” Plumtree said.

After this weekend’s Test match against the US Eagles at FedEx Field in the US capital, the New Zealanders face a Test match against Wales in Cardiff on October 30.

That will be followed by a Test against Italy in Rome on November 6, then a clash with Ireland in Dublin on November 13. The tour concludes with a Test against France in Paris on November 20.

The All Blacks’ arrival in the United States coincided with the news that rising New Zealand star Sean Wainui had died in a car crash on Monday.

Plumtree said the All Blacks players had held an informal remembrance for Wainui at the team’s hotel.

“The passing of Sean Wainui has been very hard on the team,” Plumtree said. “Hit us pretty hard.

“The Chiefs boys organised a little drink last night in the team room for anyone who wanted to join in remembrance of him, and everyone came and shared some stories.

“There were some really beautiful moments. A pretty tough start to the week.”