English rugby writer Stuart Barnes has again criticised Sam Cane, claiming that the All Blacks captain would not be good enough to make it into the Italian starting XV.
Writing in The Times, the former Lions No 10 said Italian coach Kieran Crowley "wouldn't swap his inspiring Michale Lamero for the brave, battered but decidedly second-hand looking Cane".
"Good enough for New Zealand, not for Italy."
Barnes said this month's historic series defeat to Ireland represented "an opportunity for this legendary rugby land to reboot their chances — an opportunity to freshen up their leadership both on and off the field".
"They did neither," he concluded. "Ian Foster remains in charge off the field, Sam Cane on it."
After the All Blacks' 42-19 victory in the first test, Barnes argued that Cane should be dropped and Ardie Savea shifted from No 8 to openside flanker. He opined that Irish No 7 Josh van der Flier had "eclipsed" the All Blacks captain.
"Management is about making hard choices as much as avoiding the easy ones."
Barnes said New Zealand rugby had failed to bring about enough change following the series defeat to Ireland.
"It's one of the best definitions of madness. Something fails repeatedly so you work harder at doing the same thing. The blinkers are well and truly on."
Barnes rightly noted the importance of the No 7 jersey to All Black rugby: "The men in black have won three World Cups; Michael Jones was regal in 1987 and McCaw central in the successive 2011 and 2015 triumphs.
"Aardie Savea is among the contenders for being the best openside on earth but Foster plays him at No 8. It keeps Cane in place."
When the Irish were on the front foot, Barnes claimed the All Black captain had been unable to "slow them down with either the weight of tackle or cunning at the breakdown".
"When New Zealand claimed the front foot, he was anonymous compared with skilful ball-carriers and offloaders like Savea."
As the All Blacks look ahead to matches against South Africa and Australia, Barnes noted that both sides are led by their opensides.
"Seven is a significant position.
"The Springboks wouldn't think of swapping their captain for anyone, let alone New Zealand's skipper."
Barnes also listed other top rugby nations, claiming Cane wouldn't be selected ahead of Michael Hooper (Australia), Tommy Reffell (Wales), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Tom Curry and Sam Underhill (England), and Anthony Jelonch (France).