Sam Whitelock on the cusp of All Blacks history

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Eight years later, lock Sam Whitelock is just one game away from claiming the record as his own.

If he takes the field when the All Blacks play Italy in Lyon, France on September 29 (September 30 NZT) at the Rugby World Cup, Sam Whitelock will make this unique record his own.

The humble, understated, 34-year-old doesn’t like the limelight but when asked about the record and what has kept him on the paddock, he reveals the legendary Brad Thorn as inspiration.  Thorn played into his late 30s and was meticulous about looking after his body.

Let’s look back on one of the most successful rugby players ever. This is a story of greatness, of a man who at nearly 35-years-old and with grey in his beard, is still one of the giants of the game.

The beginning

Even before he was in the black jersey, he made people sit up and take notice back in high school, being a part of the 2008 Under 20 New Zealand that went on to win the global tournament that year.

The same year, he made his first professional start when he debuted for Canterbury against Wellington. After two years of playing for his province, the Crusaders called him up in 2010 to make his Super Rugby debut against the Highlanders. In that same year, Sir Graham Henry picked him for the All Blacks.

Although he didn't see starts early, he certainly made an impact on his debut, coming off the bench to score two tries against Ireland. He got consistent minutes across ten more Tests in 2010 and even scored his third Test try against Ireland later in the year.

Whitelock was selected for the 30-man squad for the World Cup year in 2011, and after coming on from the bench in the second pool against Japan, he was the starting lock for the rest of the tournament and was one of the key cogs in the All Blacks winning the Webb Ellis trophy at Eden Park in Auckland.


The middle

After the World Cup win, Sam Whitelock cemented himself as the first-choice lock alongside Brodie Retallick.  The pair hold the world record of the most Tests for a locking duo. In 2013, Sam and Guz (as Retallick known), were a key part of the unbeaten 2013 All Blacks squad. Whitelock wasn't like other locks. He was fast, agile and a natural leader in the environment. His pace and finesse were on full display when he ran 60 metres to score one of the great solo tries in the history of Super Rugby against the Queensland Reds in Christchurch.

Of course, he was a key member of the 2015 World Cup squad and is part of the exclusive club of players that have won multiple World Cups.  No one will ever forget the defining line out steal off the South Africans in the semi-final when the Springboks were snapping at the All Blacks heels.  That crucial steal won the All Blacks the game. That team of legends went on to lift the trophy and become the first team to win back-to-back World Cup titles.

2016 was a big year for Whitelock. He picked up his 100th cap for the Crusaders, became the most capped All Blacks lock of all time, surpassing Ian Jones's previous record of 79 Tests, and was nominated for New Zealand rugby player of the year (Beauden Barrett was named the winner).

In 2017, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson named Whitelock as the Crusaders captain. A remarkable era for the franchise followed, winning an incredible seven titles. Whitelock was instrumental in all of those wins, menacing at line out time and looming large around the field. Not only was he a key figure on the park, but his mentorship of young players has seen the Crusaders consistently bring new talent through who are ready to perform at the highest level. He is never shy to speak his mind and is uncompromising in his preparation.

Sam went to his third Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019. Sadly, there was to be no three-peat as the men in the back lost to England in the semi-final.

The Now

After being involved in three previous Rugby World Cup campaigns, being a central figure in the greatest dynasty in Super Rugby history, and becoming an All Blacks centurion, Whitelock has placed himself in the pantheon of all-time greats of the game.

Now at his fourth Rugby World Cup, and the sole remaining member of the 2011 World Cup squad, you would think the nearly 35-year-old would be thinking of retiring.

But there’s unfinished business to attend to, and that’s bringing home another trophy.  He will say it’s never about him, it’s about the team. 

But if he takes the record of being our most capped All Black in history, he surely deserves a very public pat on the back for that amazing achievement.

All Blacks v Italy, Pool A: Friday 29 September, 9pm CEST, (Saturday 30 September, 8am NZT), Lyon, France. Live on Sky Sport NZ. 

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