Could Scott Barrett be the next All Blacks captain?

One of the most important jobs in NZ is officially vacant. So who could be the next All Blacks captain? Jamie Wall looks at some of the options.

Ever since Ian Foster decided to not seek a second four-year term as All Black coach, all eyes were on Sam Cane on how he might figure in Scott Robertson's plans for the future, so yesterday Cane put it to rest by announcing that he'd cut his contract with NZ Rugby short. He'll walk away from test match rugby at the end of the year and whether he'll feature in the All Blacks' schedule at all remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, though: he won't be captaining them.

So, who does? To be fair, this is a debate that has raged for a while. Cane's unfortunate propensity to get injured has meant that others have had decent auditions for the job, so much so that in 2022 alone six different players were named captain. Just who takes over full time now is an intriguing question.

Three names immediately spring to mind. Scott Barrett, Robertson's man in charge in the last years of his Crusaders reign, Ardie Savea, who has already led the All Blacks eight times in tests, and current Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

Let's assess their credentials, as well a few other candidates.

Scott Barrett. Photo: Getty Images
Scott Barrett. Photo: Getty Images
Scott Barrett

With Samuel Whitelock now definitely not coming back, Barrett is now the senior man in the engine room that will likely be on the field for the duration of a test match. He's already captained the Crusaders with great success and their lack thereof this season is due in a big part to his injury-enforced absence. He's also an enforcer, the key lineout forward and, at 30, the right age to build a World Cup campaign around in 2027.

The issue? He's also the only All Black to have ever been sent off twice in a test match, which is why 'staying on the field' has to be prefaced with 'likely'. Barrett's disciplinary record is something that will come under intense scrutiny if he gets the top job, both home and abroad. The All Blacks' propensity for foul play was an underlying theme of Ian Foster's tenure, certain acts like Barrett's red card last year against the Springboks at Twickenham being key reasons for poor results.

While it's not exactly chronic, Barrett's current back injury isn't a great sign either.

Ardie Savea. Photo: Getty Images
Ardie Savea. Photo: Getty Images
Ardie Savea

The man with the most vocal support from the public also has the advantage of almost certainly being an automatic selection for the rest of his career, plus the title of World Player of the Year and being the game's pre-eminent human highlight reel. Savea has captained the Hurricanes, although that ended in a quarter final exit from Super Rugby Pacific last season.

The issue? Savea has been out of NZ rugby so far in 2024, playing in the same Japanese Top League that Cane has. So really, this is the first serious conversation about him all year because we've all been talking about the guys who are in great form in Super Rugby. It would feel a bit strange for a player to simply show back up and become the most important man in the team, but Savea has the buy in from rugby fans to be able to probably overcome that.

Patrick Tuipulotu. Photo: Getty Images
Patrick Tuipulotu. Photo: Getty Images
Patrick Tuipulotu

He's certainly got the work ethic of a rugged All Black workhorse, plus the calm demeanour of a man who is comfortable in charge of high profile rugby team. Most importantly for Tuipulotu, he's currently very much associated with success: his Blues side are now hot favourites to win Super Rugby Pacific and may well do so in front of a full Eden Park. This perception can't be underestimated, Cane's winless season with the Chiefs before he stepped in the All Black captaincy certainly had an unfortunate effect in the opposite direction.

The issue? At 31 years old, it feels like Tuipulotu should have played more than his 43 tests. He has been sitting behind Samuel Whitelock and Brodie Retallick his whole career, but with them gone he and Barrett will have a ton of pressure just on its own to step up as a dominant All Black second row.

The others

Beauden Barrett is the most experienced player in the team, but like Savea has been in Japan this season too. Codie Taylor is an outside shot but will be unlikely to start every test given the way front row forwards are rotated. Dalton Papalii had led the Blues and certainly has the presence and charisma to be an excellent front man for the All Blacks but needs to establish himself as a locked in starter in the next few years.