Third tournament but Whitelock feels the excitement

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Whitelock said a Test with South Africa was one of those every child growing up wanted to play.


"Some of my greatest memories when I was little fellow was waking up and watching some of those games in the middle of the night. So having that opportunity to play South Africa at a World Cup opening game is pretty cool and hopefully I'm given that opportunity to play," he said.


Whitelock said regardless of the opposition the first World Cup game was the one where there was always a knot in the stomach and you didn't know what it was going to be like, no matter how many times you had played that opposition before.


"This is the one that everyone wants to get out there and embrace the pressure of a World Cup and the pressure of South Africa at a World Cup," he said.


Playing South Africa was always a physical challenge, whether starting or coming off the bench, and whoever played would feel it afterwards. However, there was also the mental challenge, something Whitelock enjoyed.


Part of that involved staying in the moment and not getting into the situation of playing the game too soon.

Whitelock, who played his first game for New Zealand in 2010 said by the time he got to the 2011 Rugby World Cup he didn't understand what a World Cup was and he didn't understand the pressure.


"I was just excited to be in the squad and I was given a couple of opportunities but it wasn't until some of the older boys that had suffered defeats at World Cups, and had different pressures, that you actually understood how amazing it is to play at a World Cup and the different pressures and the different challenges that go with it. But those challenges are pretty exciting," he said.


Having his first tournament on home soil in 2011, he said it wasn't until the Tongan side got to New Zealand and New Zealanders realised that they too could get out of their seats and support their team that its significance hit home.


"I thank that was when the World Cup really took off in New Zealand," he said.


That's when he realised it was a little different to the usual Test matches he had been involved in. The buzz around the team hotel on the day of the opening game made him aware that it was something different than what he had expected.


Whitelock, who will be without the services of long time playing partner Brodie Retallick during the first weeks of the tournament, said it had been enjoyable watching the growth in fellow lock Patrick Tuipulotu's game this year.


"He's definitely taken a step to where he potentially can go as a player and that's very, very exciting for him individually but also for us a team.


"It's awesome to see growth in a player. He's probably lost a little bit of weight too which has meant he is a little bit more mobile but he is still keeping that great strength that he does have," he said.


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