Written by Max Sharp.
For his 140th test cap, Sam Whitelock is set to stand in as captain for the injured Sam Cane; who is dealing with concussion symptoms. The number of tests, 140, is staggering. With 165 tests to his name and with a career still going, Alun Wyn Jones' record as the most-capped rugby player of all time is unlikely to ever be going to be broken. Whitelock however, has the possibility of becoming just the second rugby player to reach 150 tests.
In the Eden Park clash against Australia for 24th September, 2022, Whitelock will become just the fifth rugby player to reach 140 tests, while Richie McCaw, the most-capped All Black, played 148 tests in his 14-year career and was the player that Jones overtook, in order to become the record holder.
What sets the records of Whitelock and McCaw apart from the other 9 All Blacks test centurions however, is the rate at which they earned caps. McCaw played his 50th test on 9th June 2007, with a big 61-10 victory over France, becoming the first New Zealander to accumulate 100 tests when playing against the same nation on 24th September 2011. Whitelock's trajectory was even more impressive however. Despite being a forward, he had 59 caps by his 26th birthday, becoming just the second All Black to reach 50 before his 26th birthday after Christian Cullen. Whitelock is the fastest-ever player to reach 100 tests, doing so just 8 years and 2 months after his test debut. With his 100th test being on 18th August, 2018, Whitelock was still 29 years old at the time, he has so far been the only All Black to reach 100 before turning 30 years old.
As we reminisce on these incredible records, could there be a possibility of any current All Blacks reaching 100 tests? Let's have a look at some of the realistic options!
Note: * indicates the player's total will increase after a 24/09/2022 match against Australia.
All Blacks test centurion Beauden Barrett (10), alongside David Havili (12) and potential centurions in the years to come, Tupou Vaa'i (19), Rieko Ioane (13) and Ardie Savea (8) at Sky Stadium, Wellington, against Ireland. Photo: Max Sharp.
Age: 31 years old
Test Caps: 97 tests*
Unless something goes seriously wrong from here, Retallick will raise the ton without question. While injury has robbed the likes of Dylan Hartley from reaching 100 tests at the 11th hour, Retallick is injury free and has been named to start against Australia for his 98th test; to close out the 2022 Rugby Championship.
Brodie Retallick (4) is seen by doctors after a facial fracture against Ireland. Photo: Max Sharp.
As Japan are ranked 10th in World Rugby, Ian Foster will almost certainly name a second-choice All Blacks team for the only time in 2022; Retallick could possibly miss this game for rest. But with 3 games against European nations in this order - Wales, Scotland and England, Retallick is almost certain to face Scotland in his 100th test. Retallick is unlikely to challenge McCaw's record though; having hinted at a post-World Cup retirement to the media.
Age: 30 years old
Test Caps: 85 tests
Cane's chances at 100 tests, will come down to his ability to avoid injury, if anything. He was re-signed through to 2021, at the conclusion of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour and I can remember a conversation with my father, where we said that should Cane sign on past 2021, he will reach 100 tests. Not bad to see how he's recovered from the broken neck either.
Max Sharp meets Sam Cane at a Chiefs training, 2022.
While many, myself guilty as charged, believe Dalton Papali'i to be a better player, Cane is still a good captain at least. Some coaches tend to pick a squad around who their captain is and should he be able to look after his body, there's a possibility to see a 35-year-old Cane still in charge for the 2027 Rugby World Cup. After all, his contract has indeed been extended through to 2025 already.
Age: 28 years old
Test Caps: 66 tests*
Savea is also staying put in New Zealand post-World Cup; his contract is through to 2024. Though Savea has previously debated playing for Samoa later on, or cross codes, his chances at playing for Samoa will be over, should he play a test in 2024. As the best player in the country, he would perhaps be able to go as far as receiving a pay increase, while he will earn his 67th test cap against Australia.
Ardie Savea (8) crosses the tryline against Ireland at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.
The chances of Savea going overseas are also remote, as he has recently welcomed his third child. With such an all-round skillset on both attack and defence, Savea will be able to continue altering his game for the team's tactics. Expect him to captain the All Blacks for the 2027 Rugby World Cup; he will turn 34 years old during the tournament.
Age: 25 years old
Test Caps: 55 tests*
Just 13 of history's 1206 All Blacks have made their test debut before their 20th birthday, just two of them in the professional era. Though Isaia Toeava was pushed in too early, Rieko Ioane was not. As the 8th-to-youngest ever All Black, Ioane was 19 years old on debut. Despite a rough patch from 2019-2021, Ioane at last confirmed that he is indeed a centre, in a stunning end to the 2021 season against France, despite the team losing.
Rieko Ioane (centre) directs the backline as Aaron Smith (left) and Beauden Barrett (10) communicate. Photo: Max Sharp.
As of the time of writing this article, Ioane has played 1777 of the 2320 minutes (29 test matches) that have been on offer so far in the Foster era, the most of any player, making him Foster's most crucial player. Having joined Whitelock and Cullen's company, as just the third All Black to reach 50 tests at 25 years old, Ioane's positional shift has paid off. Not only is he certain to reach 100 tests, but he is certain to become the first All Black to score 50 test tries, should he avoid injury.
Age: 25 years old
Test Caps: 44 tests*
Though Barrett did not get to debut as a teenager, having been an apprentice for the 2016 season, a long few years of building muscle and mental fortitude have finally paid off, as Barrett has evolved from a young choker, to the world's best fullback and a greater player than his older brothers were, or will ever be. He's also entered the record books for starting a test alongside both Beauden and Scott; while he ranks 8th in the All Blacks' highest points-scorers of all time, with 246 points (including 20 tries).
Jordie Barrett (centre) lines up a kick at goal against Ireland at Sky Stadium, 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.
While fullback is his best place for now thanks to an all-round skillset, calmness under the high ball and the size to snuff out forwards who make clean breaks; he has been preferred at second-five, over Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for a Rugby Championship-deciding test. As he plays there for the Hurricanes, look for Barrett to join Ioane in bucking the trend of outside backs who play their last test young. Is it too early to imagine him making the full-time shift to 12, but post-World Cup?
Age: 22 years old
Test Caps: 14 tests*
For Vaa'i, as things stand, his potential is limitless. Though he has not been used as a replacement off the bench in a few tests he's initially been named for, he was after all, the first All Black to be born in the 21st century; debuting for both the All Blacks and Chiefs in 2020, despite beginning that season without a Super Rugby contract. His 431 minutes of test rugby in a short career are a respectable amount, plus he has been able to learn from Whitelock and Retallick; whom many perceive as rugby's greatest locking combo.
Tupou Vaa'i (standing, centre) awaits a ball while training. Photo: Max Sharp.
There's also the added factor of Retallick being Vaa'i's teammate at the Chiefs, while Scottt Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu are also experienced players for Vaa'i to learn from. With an athletic frame and the willingness to make hard carries, Vaa'i will be the second coming of Whitelock should he avoid injury. With some leadership experience too, having been the Head Prefect and 1st XV Captain for Wesley College, a well-known rugby school, Vaa'i has the world at his feet. Call me a conspiracist for this prediction, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a 35-year-old Vaa'i as the All Blacks captain, for the 2035 Rugby World Cup. He's young enough.
Age: 22 years old
Test Caps: 2
A bit of a wildcard here, given my Instagram comments sections are full of people who feel demoralised at Fakatava's lack of game time. We'll put this in perspective though, Aaron Smith did not debut until 23 years old. Though Smith became a regular starter instantly, he won the World Cup in his first attempt, aged 26. Fakatava may be playing third-fiddle at test level and second-fiddle to Smith at the Highlanders, but this inside knowledge at a younger age, will no doubt see Fakatava's career skyrocket post-2023.
Folau Fakatava and Sam Whitelock train at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.
Having proven himself at club level, debuting for Hawke's Bay as an 18-year-old, the Highlanders signed him for a full contract in 2019 and he debuted aged 19; before winning the Duane Monkley Medal in 2020. Ian Foster has gone as far to say, that he'd have picked Fakatava for the All Blacks in 2021. If Aaron Smith can supplant 2011 hero Piri Weepu, as the first-choice in 2012, there's no reason the natural talent of Fakatava, can't overtake Finlay Christie, once Smith hangs the boots up after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.