Cane’s weight of history: Five great All Blacks captains

History man: New Zealand's new captain Sam Cane

Flanker Sam Cane was named New Zealand rugby captain this week to succeed the retiring Kieran Read.

Coach Ian Foster said he was confident Cane’s “follow-me” leadership style could restore the three-time world champions’ aura of invincibility.

Cane will undoubtedly feel the weight of history as he takes up the role. Here are five of the greatest captains who helped forge the legacy of the All Blacks.

Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads (1957-71)

— 55 Tests, four as captain

Towering lock Meads was a legendary hard man who helped give New Zealand rugby its edge.

While Meads captained New Zealand only four times, his 55 Tests were a world record at the time and his constant presence in the team inspired teammates and intimidated opponents.

After suffering a broken arm during a tour match in South Africa in 1970, he completed the game then treated his injury with horse liniment, taking the field for a Test soon after with a thin guard protecting his arm.

Meads’s impact was acknowledged when he was named New Zealand’s player of the century in 1999.

Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford (1986-90)

— 22 Tests, 16 as captain

The only All Blacks captain to remain undefeated during his time in charge, Shelford led the New Zealanders through one of their great periods of domination.

The number eight was part of the 1987 World Cup-winning side and took up the captaincy later that year, leading his side to 15 victories and one draw.

Fiercely proud of his Maori heritage, Shelford insisted his teammates treat the haka with proper respect, transforming it into the full-blooded, earth-shaking challenge we know today.

He entered All Blacks folklore after the 1986 “Battle of Nantes” against France, when he lost four teeth and suffered a large tear to his scrotum from a stray stud in the first half.

He insisted medics stitch up the wound on the sidelines, then launched himself back into the fray.

Controversially dropped in 1990, he was so popular with All Black fans that “Bring back Buck” signs appeared at matches for years afterwards.

Richie McCaw (2001-15)

— 148 Tests, 111 as captain

Modern great McCaw is widely acknowledged as the best player to ever pull on an All Black jersey.Richie McCaw is the only captain to have lifted the Rugby World Cup twice

A three-time world player of the year, he is the only captain to win the World Cup twice and remains rugby’s most capped player, with 148 Tests.

He led New Zealand to victory on home soil in the 2011 World Cup with a broken foot, ending a 26-year tournament drought to seal his place in Kiwi affections.

McCaw was renowned as a master of the flanker’s dark arts, insisting he was simply playing on the edge while opponents such as Springbok Victor Matfield complained he “got away with murder”.

Dave Gallaher (1903-06)

— Six Tests (1903-1906), four as captain

Gallaher led the All Black “Originals” tour to Europe and the United States in 1905, ensuring his place in the pantheon of New Zealand rugby greats despite his brief international career.

He was already 31 by then and there were complaints that he was too old to captain the team, the first to use the All Blacks name.

But his innovative tactics and rigorous training methods, which were unusual at the time, saw the New Zealanders win 34 of their 35 tour matches.

After returning home, he co-authored “The Complete Rugby Footballer”, which served as a blueprint for New Zealand rugby coaches for generations.

Gallaher died in France in World War One and his grave has become a shrine for travelling Kiwis.

Even today, the All Blacks and France contest the Gallaher Trophy, the rugby ground at Letterkenny near his birthplace is named after him, and he has a statue outside Auckland’s Eden Park.

Wilson Whineray (1957-65)

— 32 Tests (1957-1965), 30 as captain.

Prop Whineray was 21 when he made his Test debut in 1957 and was quickly elevated to the captaincy for the series against Australia the following year.

He was at the time the youngest All Blacks captain.

Whineray played mostly at prop and led the All Blacks during an era which included other notable names including Colin Meads, Kel Tremain and Ken Gray.

Of the 30 Tests he captained, the All Blacks won 23, drew three and lost four.

Notable successes included the 3-1 series win against the 1959 British and Irish Lions and the 1963-64 tour to Britain, Ireland and France in which only one of the 34 matches was lost.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.