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All Blacks manager confident 'the next Sam Whitelock' will emerge shortly

By Ned Lester
Samuel Whitelock and Ardie Savea of New Zealand enter the field of play following the half time interval during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Pool A match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on September 08, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Ramos - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Sam Whitelock’s grit and grind attitude coupled with his unrivalled expertise has been fuelling the All Blacks‘ engine room for well over the past decade, leaving almighty boots to fill for the next generation.

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That next generation is set to be thrust into the limelight with an opportunity previous locks stifled by Whitelock’s stature throughout his immense tenure could only dream of.

One man who was present for the entirety of Whitelock’s journey in the black jersey is former All Blacks manager Darren Shand, who stepped away from the team following last year’s Rugby World Cup after 20 years in the role.

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Shand witnessed first-hand Whitelock’s influence both on and off the field, but also those who came before him and how they influenced the man who would become the All Blacks’ all-time most capped player.

“One thing I’ve always known with the All Blacks is we’re always okay,” Shand told SENZ Breakfast.

“Because people just rise to the challenge. That’s happened for more than 150 years and let’s hope it keeps going.

“I’m really confident Razor (Scott Robertson) is going to build an awesome environment, that’s what matters more and the people will rise to that.

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“There’ll be other parts of the group where strengths will allow other people to come through and it’s not like we’re starting from zero, are we?

“Patty (Tuipulotu) has been around a pretty long period of time now and has been really unlucky (with injury). Tups (Vaa’i) is a young man still and has worked hard in the environment, he’s had a great apprenticeship and Josh Lord’s got all the physical makings.

“There’s a lot of young guys during Super that seem to be really excited about the opportunity too.

“We’ve lost great players all through time and inevitably people are excited for the opportunity to step up and be the next Sam Whitelock. So, long may that continue.”

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Scott Barrett, having seized Whitelock’s spot in the starting XV in 2023, is expected to retain his place and make up half of the starting second row, with Blues captain Tuipulotu the most experienced option who could join him.

Tupou Vaa’i has racked up 25 Tests at just 24 years of age while his injury-prone and younger teammate Josh Lord boasts just four appearances in black.

Speaking to The Breakdown earlier this year, Scott Robertson was keenly aware of giant Highlanders youngster Fabian Holland’s All Blacks eligibility – the Dutch 21-year-old will be available for All Blacks selection in 2025 – while at the Crusaders Robertson oversaw the development of Quinten Strange (27) along with Zach Gallagher (22) and Jamie Hannah (21).

The coach also has ties with Canterbury product Sam Darry of the Blues, while his seven years of Super Rugby Pacific success offer plenty of in-depth knowledge on any and all alternative prospects.

Having plenty of experience with Whitelock himself, Robertson reacted to the retirement news by proclaiming: “Sam is an immortal of our incredible game.

“First and foremost, he is a quality person. A great husband and father who has a special ability to build deep connections with people from all walks of life.

“In terms of his rugby, Sam’s impact has been immense both mentally and physically over four World Cup cycles. He is a winner who rose to any occasion as his competitive spirit drove him to the highest level of performance.

“Sam will stand with the greats of our game.”

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