All Blacks name new captain and leave out No 8 who soon qualifies for England

Hoskins Sotutu evading defenders
Hoskins Sotutu has lit up Super Rugby this year but has not been rewarded with a spot in the All Blacks squad - Getty Images/DAVID ROWLAND

Finally appointed as All Blacks head coach following years of success with the Crusaders, Scott Robertson has announced his first squad, to take on England next week.

Robertson has picked five uncapped players, left out one notably in-form forward, and chosen a captain when he had another strong candidate in the pack.

No Hoskins Sotutu, which will pique England’s interest

Those of you with good memories of New Zealand’s post-2019 rebuild will remember that Hoskins Sotutu was the hot name to come in and replace Kieran Read following his retirement. And while Sotutu was given an opportunity under Ian Foster, winning 14 caps, the All Blacks went in a different direction with Ardie Savea successfully moving to No 8.

Sotutu’s last cap was the 25-25 draw against England at Twickenham, before being dropped for the whole of 2023 and missing out on selection for the Rugby World Cup. Sotutu spoke earlier this year about how that snub “lit a fire” and it unquestionably led to his best form, scoring 12 tries for the title-winning Blues this year, the joint-most by any forward since 2011, according to Opta.

And yet there is no Test recall for Sotutu, despite that stellar campaign where he consistently showed power and an ability to find the try line. “I don’t know what more he needs to do [to be selected] but that is their selection, so they’ve obviously got a game plan in mind,” John Kirwan, the former All Black, told Sky Sports NZ.

His continued absence, now under Robertson, creates the possibility for a country-switch next year either to play for England, for whom Sotutu qualifies through his mother, or Fiji, through his father.

Robertson described it as his toughest call to leave Sotutu out. It will be interesting now to see if the player takes the snub, after such stellar form, and decides the time has come to head overseas, even though he signed a two-year extension to stay with the Blues back in May.

New caps

One reason why Sotutu is not in the squad is because Robertson has opted to pick another talented No 8: Wallace Sititi of the Chiefs. The son of Semo, the former Samoa international who played for Newcastle Falcons, Sititi is some athlete as you can tell from this score against the Hurricanes.

Speaking about the 21-year-old, Robertson noted how the No 8 had thrived in the knockouts as the Chiefs reached the final, losing to Sotutu’s Blues. “An incredible young talent. The harder the game, the higher he rose in regards to his performance. He owned it.”

The other new faces are hooker George Bell, prop Pasilio Tosi, scrum-half Cortez Ratima (who scored nine tries this year for the Chiefs) and centre Billy Proctor. Bell’s inclusion has raised eyebrows given the form of the Blues’ Ricky Riccitelli (Samisoni Taukei’aho is missing with an Achilles injury). “A decision for the future,” was how Robertson summed up Bell’s selection.

Tosi might be the most intriguing addition of the lot given he was a No 8 until four years ago, with Robertson describing him as “a great technical scrummager” while noting his strength and footwork.

Savea overlooked for the captaincy

Just as Sam Cane always seemed like the obvious successor to Read four years ago, the same was true for Cane’s back-row colleague Savea heading into 2024. Except Robertson has opted to go with a player he knows well from the Crusaders in Scott Barrett, with Savea and Jordie Barrett named as vice-captains.

“Your relationship does count . . . when you’ve had four years with him as captain and worked closely at the Crusaders. He’s your starting lock, extremely experienced and the players will follow him,” Robertson explained.

While that makes sense for a first-time Test head coach, Savea had a strong case.

Scott Barrett in All Blacks kit
Scott Barrett will take charge of New Zealand on the field - AFP/SANKA VIDANAGAMA

The post-Whitelock/Retallick era at lock

Barrett is also one of just three second-rows in the squad, along with Tupou Vaa’i and Patrick Tuipulotu, with the latter having only just returned ahead of schedule from a knee ligament injury to lead the Blues in their Super Rugby final win last weekend. “If he can play like that with an achy knee, we’ll take him. He’s pretty special,” Robertson said.

Sam Darry, uncapped, is on standby, and it’s a strange All Blacks squad with no Sam Whitelock, now retired, or Brodie Retallick who is currently playing in Japan with Kobelco Kobe Steelers.

Old and missing names

The return of TJ Perenara, still a phenomenal scrum-half at 32, is a welcome sight after his battles with an Achilles injury which ruled him out for all of 2023.

Along with Retallick, the other big name missing is Richie Mo’unga, who will not be part of the fixtures due to his commitments in Japan. That opens the door for one of Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie to start at No 10 and the other at full-back, although Barrett hasn’t started at fly-half since facing Scotland in the 2022 autumn Tests.

Robertson is spoilt for choice on the wings, with Sevu Reece (12 tries), Caleb Clarke (10), Emoni Narawa (10) and Mark Telea (9) all available. There is no Will Jordan, however, with the World Cup’s top try-scorer ruled out due to a shoulder injury.


All in all, this is what you would expect for the first squad of a new cycle, with obvious needs to address and big losses in terms of experience (Dane Coles, Retallick, Whitelock, Cane, Aaron Smith, Mo’unga). Which is why England’s best chance for a first win in New Zealand since 2003 feels like the first Test when a changed-up All Blacks side under a new coach are figuring things out.