Whitelock raring to get back in the mix

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Whitelock was denied an earlier catch-up with the side in Australia after paternity leave meant he couldn't travel with the side. His early return was denied due to travel complications. That meant he missed the second South Africa Test, but he was part of the early party who flew to Washington DC from New Zealand ahead of the team from Australia.

 

Covid-19 was also responsible for him removing his beard. He said masks and beards didn't go together comfortably.

 

Whitelock said he was feeling good about his form.

 

"It was a little bit different for me being at home watching. But Gilly, our trainer, wasn't slow sending me through ideas and things he wanted me to do, so I'm in pretty good shape.

 

"I played a game for Canterbury a couple of weeks ago. I'm the same as everyone else, I just want to get out there and get into it. It's been a long time, with a couple of false starts for me to get back with the team, but that just makes it so much more special when you do get here," he said.

 

There was no one happier to greet the team when they walked into their hotel after 35 hours of travel.

 

"We got to connect with a few different stories of what they've been up to and different challenges they've had, and looking forward to accepting a few of those challenges," he said.

Whitelock is rooming with Josh Lord, the surprise selection for the tour from Taranaki.

 

"Josh's excitement levels are through the roof. He hasn't expressed it verbally, but you can see it in his body language. It's been good getting to know him," he said.

 

Whitelock had to cope with his level of excitement and then disappointment when his earlier plans to join the side in Australia fell over.

 

"I'm not going to say I sulked, but I had all my bags in the car and must admit, I didn't taken them out for a couple of days. I probably should have, but I was kind of just living out of the car when I needed some rugby stuff," he said.

 

"It took me about six or seven days to accept I wasn't going, and move them all back into the house. And when I had to repack again it was opening up the bag and going, 'I've kinda got it all sorted. Instead of taking an hour to pack, it was a 10-minute thing," he said.

 

Like many in the side, he was feeling the pain of the loss of former Crusaders teammate Sean Wainui in a car accident on Monday.

 

 

"There's a lot of people here heartbroken with Seany's passing. A lot of people have played with him in New Zealand Maori, the Chiefs and Crusaders, and the age group stuff, so there are people walking around with a pretty heavy heart at the moment, which is totally understandable," he said.

 

Whitelock said love and compassion went out to his wife Paige and their children and extended family.

 

"It's delicate with the boys being away. The guys that were close to him wanted to get around those who were close to Sean. It's hard for a lot of the guys.

 

"Yes, we're here to play rugby, but there are so many other things that can affect that, and this is one of those. People will be going through different cycles of grief.

 

"It's all very raw still and, everyone, in their own ways, are connecting with their own stories about Sean.

 

"For me, at the Crusaders, Whitelock and Wainui used to sit next to each other on the plane. I used to love having that catch-up around where he was in his life. He was 19-20 when he was at the Crusaders. That was my story. Everyone is connecting with their memories they have of Seany," he said.

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