Whitelock on the cusp of history in France

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In The Rugby Paper, British rugby writer Chris Hewett said, "We'll know soon enough if Sam Whitelock is finally past it. The venerable All Black lock from Palmerston North, home to the New Zealand Rugby Museum, has been playing the house down for so long he runs a serious risk of being kidnapped by the curator, lowered by crane into a glass case and ordered not to move a muscle during opening hours."

Whitelock was a fresher face among the World Cup winners in 2011 but formed a formidable partnership with Brodie Retallick for the 2015 success in London. In that tournament, Hewett said Whitelock 'established beyond reasonable doubt that he was a once-in-a-blue-moon player in a once-in-forever side'.

"As of last weekend, when he did as much as anyone and more than most to spare an understrength team the pain of Bledisloe Cup defeat at the hands of a fully-loaded mob of Wallabies, he has won 145 Test caps, three shy of the New Zealand record set by Richie McCaw.

"Whitelock has seen it all, felt it all and won it all, leaving aside the drawn series with the Lions in 2017. The bloke is something else, by any measure you can apply."

Twenty other players have been two-time winners of the Webb Ellis Trophy.

"But if the All Blacks find a way to reclaim the tin pot in France over the coming weeks, he will stand alone as a three-time winner. Which would be entirely appropriate, given that there is no one else quite like him."

Hewett said Whitelock might even challenge Australian John Eales and Englishmen Martin Johnson for the greatest XVs, at least among those the British chose. But there were differences in Whitelock's play that were not in vogue during those earlier eras.

"Modern-day locks have seen their job descriptions change every bit as much as inside centres and tighthead props, to the extent that top operators like Whitelock are routinely expected to do things that would never have occurred to their predecessors, unless they happened to be an Eales or, venturing deeper into the mists of time, a Colin Meads or a Frik du Preez."

Hewett added, but at his last World Cup appearance, it would be the last chance for Whitelock's hat-trick should the cards fall right for him. If that happened, his place in that Rugby Museum would be assured, not just as Exhibit A, but Exhibit A*.


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