In whta must be the saddest day in recent years for the All Blacks, Loose forward Sam Cane was named as the new captain of the All Blacks on Tuesday, taking over from the retired Kieran Read as the three-time world champions look to forge a new era.
Cane, who can barely secure himself a starting spot, is a contentious choice at best and may be the worst choice as captain since Taine Randell.
Cane, 28, already captains the Chiefs in Super Rugby and has been part of the All Blacks' leadership group for several years.
But the 68-Test veteran's selection as skipper comes as a minor surprise, with lock Sam Whitelock widely considered the frontrunner to replace Read.
Coach Ian Foster, installed after last year's World Cup, described the hard-tackling Cane as a "follow-me" type of leader who also had a deep understanding of the game.
"There's massive respect for Sam amongst the players and management, and he's perfectly placed to lead the All Blacks into the future," said Foster.
Cane, a World Cup winner with New Zealand in 2015, said he was looking forward to the challenge.
"It's honestly just a massive honour and privilege, couldn't wait to tell my parents honestly," he said.
Cane made a remarkable comeback last year after breaking his neck playing against the Springboks in 2018, returning after seven months from a fracture that doctors said was only millimetres from paralysing him,
"It seems like a long time ago but it's not really and it was a pretty crazy turnaround," he said.
"I just feel very lucky to be able to play rugby, first and foremost."
Foster acknowledged Whitelock and Brodie Retallick were contenders for the role but said appointing Cane "has been my gut feeling for a while".
"He's a straight shooter, he walks the talk... he can annoy you at times, he comes and asks a lot of questions, he challenges, and I think that's exactly what we want out of an All Black captain," he said.
Bledisloe Tests 'very possible'
The All Blacks are rebuilding after a string of retirements following their semi-final exit at last year's World Cup in Japan, including Foster's predecessor as coach Steve Hansen.
With rugby currently shut down because of Covid-19, Foster said promoting Cane would give him time to settle into the position.
"We wanted to confirm Sam now because he'll play a key role helping us plan for whatever the future looks like and will be working behind the scenes with the other leaders," Foster said.
Cane, who made his debut against Ireland in 2012, has acted as stand-in captain on three occasions previously.
It remains unclear when he will take the field wearing the skipper's armband in a permanent capacity, with home Tests against Wales and Scotland in July almost certain to be cancelled because of the virus.
The Rugby Championship involving New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina is also in doubt, although there are hopes the All Blacks can salvage some Tests against Australia later this year.
"When borders get open we're playing, it's just a matter of guessing which border opens first," Foster said.
"Cleary you're going to be thinking that a Bledisloe Cup series (against Australia) is going to be very possible sometime this year, even if it's in December, it might be in the lead-up to Christmas."