Having signed with the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan’s Top League, Whitelock was set to miss this year’s Super Rugby season. But Covid-19 forced Whitelock and his family back to New Zealand, where they spent lockdown on the farm in Hawke’s Bay. He’ll now line up for the Crusaders in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa next month.
It’s been a pretty crazy six months for the 31 year-old.
“Razor said to me does it feel like you’ve been away for six months and I said it feels like I’ve been away for a month, even though there has been so much going on. Playing in Japan, coming back to New Zealand for lockdown and getting back down here on Monday, it seems like we have packed a lot into the last six months.”
Whitelock and his family thoroughly enjoyed their short time in Japan, saying the challenge of being in a new environment kept him on his toes.
“It was a bit different going from a 30 degree summer to Japan where it was a high of five degrees, so my wife wasn’t so happy when we first got there. But I enjoyed getting to meet some world class players and play alongside the likes of David Pocock and Damian de Allende and obviously all the Japanese boys. It’s pretty cool to see what they are all about and just look at the different styles of rugby.
“You have different challenges where you walk into a club there and you don’t know who anyone is or where they sit if they are a physio or player or doctor. Compared to here at the Crusaders I’ve been around a while, so you know where it all fits and who’s who.”
The 115-Test All Black enjoyed the style of play in Japan’s Top League and he said the new local Super Rugby competition will be similar.
“In Japan you always travel the day of a game and play at either 1 or 2 in the afternoon and then you’ll travel home. That will be something that is new for all the players here, but the actual style over there, there are some real physical and athletic guys and they play hard.”
Whitelock’s looking forward to what the 2020 rugby season has in store, post Covid-19. He’s a big advocate of All Blacks playing in the Mitre 10 Cup and also a North v South game, but knows playing New Zealand sides week in and week out is going to be brutal.
“It’s going to be challenging and I know everyone is going to be really focused on recovery, reviews, being smart and using the whole squad which is going to be great. But reality is, there’s going to be some sore bodies and big clashes, that’s what the public are looking forward to.”
The former Crusaders skipper spoke about the disappointment of not being named as the All Blacks captain, however, he still believes he’ll be able to help out Sam Cane and make a difference in the environment under new coach Ian Foster.
“Fozzy rang me a couple of days before the announcement to give me a heads up, so I was very thankful to get that before it was released. I would have loved to have the opportunity to have a go but at the same time I know there is so much that goes into it and you don’t need the captaincy armband to help people out and make a difference. I can still have a big impact whether I’m captain or not.”
The Crusaders have the first bye of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa, but they face the Hurricanes in Round two on Sunday June 21 at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Kick off at 3:05pm, live on Sky Sport.
See the full draw HERE.