Tributes flow in from around the world for Whitelock

Sammy W

On NZR+ McCaw said, it wasn't about the number of caps, it was how you played in each of those caps.

"There's no doubt that still now you are performing as one of the top players in the world and I take my hat off to you. Enjoy the moment, I know there are a few games to go that you will be looking forward to nailing and I wish you all the best.

"It's been a pleasure to watch you come in in 2010 to where you are now, even if it does mean taking a record I cherished, I couldn't think of it going to a better guy. Well done."

Whitelock said the achievement was a humbling one, but one that he always tried to put to the side.

"It's probably having the understanding that we're away, so the phone will probably be busy at morning and night from people that are here, and at home. You have to read those messages and take some time to enjoy it because it is a different one, and a pretty cool one at that."

Whitelock recounted learning from former All Blacks centre Conrad Smith that it was once he stopped playing that he appreciated what was achieved at various times in his career.

He said, when playing you were caught up in whatever came next, but it was likely to be when sitting at home or talking to a mate about a specific incident that the achievement hit home.

Whitelock said he probably had the best Test debut ever. He went onto the field as a substitute for Brad Thorn. A penalty was awarded at a scrum, a tap kick was taken and halfback Piri Weepu fed fellow lock Anthony Boric into a gap – all within a minute.

Boric returned the ball to Weepu who then passed to Whitelock in support.

"So the first thing I have done as an All Black is have to catch the ball, fall over and score a try. I was on Cloud Nine and I thought, 'This is awesome'. As the game unfolded [I] scored another try. The game blew open [the All Blacks won 66-28] and we put them away pretty convincingly."

Whitelock added that talking to the media afterwards he said with two tries on debut he would be happy if he never scored again. In hindsight, he felt it was the worst thing he could have said as he had only scored about three since then.

"I started out with a pretty good strike rate but it has dried up since then."

Whitelock's father Braeden, a former Manawatu lock, said there had been many influences on Sam.

Brad Thorn was an influence in playing in the now, whether at the next scrum or lineout, and that had been part of the evolution in Sam's game.

He said having four sons playing professional rugby meant they were in the spotlight, but for him he was most pleased they were all good guys.

"The rugby is something that everybody sees but to me it is how good a guys they are and their families and kids, and all those things are the things you are gauged by."

Brother Adam Whitelock recalled a win for the Crusaders over the Stormers in Cape Town when they had won ugly with brothers Sam, Adam, George and Luke all on the field at the same time.

His mother Caroline recalled the 2011 Rugby World Cup final against France as a memorable game. Sam had been substituted and was behind the advertising hoardings but once the final whistle went he had leapt them to run out onto the field with others to celebrate.

Sam attributed his upbringing with his three brothers contributing to his longevity in the game.

"We were always really, really competitive but I was set up well early in my career. I spent a lot of time with Brad Thorn as the senior All Black lock. I played with him a couple of years at the Crusaders. He did it in his own way but he really set me up to be successful without forcing it on me.

"He took me aside and explained how he had been successful and a couple of tricks around looking after your body, and stretching, being professional.

"A lot of those lessons I'm trying to pass on to some of the younger guys now because there's a whole group of guys who did set me up early whether it was provincial rugby, Super Rugby or international and it has helped me be still here now."

He added that another factor was the way so many top players have played other sports while growing up and that helped them understand competing and that helped the All Blacks be the way they have been for such a long time.


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