WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Sam Cane will lead the All Blacks in their opening Rugby Championship match against Argentina next week in Buenos Aires, continuing the loose forward’s remarkable return from a broken neck.
Regular captain Kieran Read and his deputy Sam Whitelock are both staying back in New Zealand to prepare for the July 27 clash with the Springboks in Wellington after they helped the Canterbury Crusaders to a 10th Super Rugby title last week.
The uncapped Sevu Reece and Braydon Ennor and George Bridge, who played against Japan last year, are the only Crusaders players travelling to Argentina for the July 20 clash.
The 27-year-old Cane, who broke a bone in his neck last October in South Africa, only returned to the field towards the end of the Super Rugby season.
He has led the team on two previous occasions — against Namibia during the last World Cup and Italy in 2016.
Injury-prone midfield back Sonny Bill Williams will travel with the squad but coach Steve Hansen said he would not risk the 33-year-old’s sore hamstring unless required.
“He is a shot to play but we’re not going to risk him,” Hansen told reporters in Auckland before the team left for Argentina.
“As much as we want him to play and he needs game time, if he’s not 100 per cent, there’s no point putting him out there and him reinjuring it.
“We’ll make that decision next week.”
Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape are likely to start against the Pumas, with Ennor to provide cover for the midfield.
Hansen added the Pumas would be confident they could beat the All Blacks for the first time, with the side mostly made up of players from Super Rugby finalists Jaguares.
“They’re a big pack, they’ve got a lot of confidence, and they’ve just had a little bit of adversity so will be somewhat more determined,” he said.
“It would be a great way to get rid of the pain of losing the final if they beat us.”
The All Blacks also tend to be slow starters in their international season and with the side playing just five tests before the Rugby World Cup starts in Japan in two months, Hansen was keen they hit the ground running.
“We’re always a bit rusty in the first two or three games of the season,” Hansen said.
“But we’re excited about what we’re doing, we’re excited about the people we’ve got doing it and the team is going to be pretty different because the big guns from the Crusaders are staying home.
“It’s giving people an opportunity to express themselves.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)