“I was found wanting” the 1987 World Cup winner says of his Test debut in a 16-9 loss to a Wallabies side that had the outstanding Simon Poidevin at openside.
“I wasn’t ready, no way,” he says.
He was, three years later, when he established himself in the starting loose forwards trio with Sir Michael Jones and Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford. By then Whetton felt he truly belonged in the All Blacks.
Experience is important, especially at the international level and when it can be blended with youthful vim and vigour it becomes a potent mix.
That’s what the All Blacks had in 1987 with Jones on debut in that opening test against France while Whetton and Grant Fox had been around for a few years without cementing a place.
Around them was a blend of experienced players and it’s the same with the All Blacks side that wants to lock away the Bledisloe Cup for another year by beating the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
Some players are outstanding from the start. Richie McCaw was player of the day on debut and rarely had a poor game in his 148 Tests.
Others, like Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu, took a few years to find their feet in the Test arena, just as Whetton did.
It’s the mix that is important and there is a huge amount of experience in the team named to play on Saturday with No.8 Hoskins Sotutu and wing Caleb Clarke the only players in the starting XV with fewer than 10 caps.
Eight have more than 30 - the number Steve Hansen said was important heading into a World Cup - and three forwards and two backs have played more than 70 Tests.
It’s the same mix on the bench with lots of experience in Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett, Rieko Ioane and TJ Perenara, sitting alongside the exuberance of Ngani Laumape, Dalton Papali’i, Alex Hodgman and Tyrel Lomax.
There is also a depth in this team of success against the Wallabies. Clarke and Sotutu and are the only newbies in the starting XV with the others having won a lot more than they have in, and against, Australia.
The All Blacks have lost only one of their last seven Tests against the Wallabies and have finished on top in seven of the last nine Tests at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.
They’ve kept the scoreboard busy too, averaging almost 45 points in their last three Tests at the venue built for the 2000 Olympics.
The All Blacks first played there in 1999 and with a record crowd of 107,042 in the stands, were thumped 28-7 by a Wallabies side that went on to win the World Cup a few months later.
Of the veterans in this All Blacks team, Sam Whitelock has played Australia 30 times and tasted defeat only five times. Aaron Smith and Dane Coles have lost to Australia just three times each and Beauden Barrett only twice.
Of course, history is the past and some believe it has little influence on the future.
Wallabies loose forward Harry Wilson, speaking after they’d been well beaten at Eden Park, was asked if the All Blacks still had an aura of invincibility about them.
“No. They’ve been good over the last 20 years, but times are changing now and all their players are new.
“They’re not the All Blacks of old, they’re a new team so it’s time for us to step up.”
They’re far from a new team, as I’ve already explained, and history is firmly against the Wallabies drinking from the Bledisloe Cup next weekend. To do so they will have to beat the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday and repeat that feat a week later in Brisbane.
The Wallabies haven’t beaten the All Blacks in consecutive tests for almost two decades, with wins in Dunedin and Sydney in 2001.