Sam Whitelock admits he “would have loved the opportunity” to captain the All Blacks, revealing he was told of Sam Cane’s appointment shortly before the news became public this month.
Head coach Ian Foster’s decision to overlook Whitelock surprised many. The 115-test lock was deemed the obvious choice to succeed Kieran Read after the All Blacks’ failed Rugby World Cup campaign last year.
“I would have loved to have the opportunity but at the same time, I know so much goes into it and you don’t need the captaincy armband to help people and make a difference,” Whitelock said.
“Sam’s going to need all the help and support he can get from everyone that’s in the All Blacks environment and I’m keen to help him out where I can.
“There’s definitely some upsides to me worrying about myself playing well first and then obviously helping him where I can if he needs it.”
Whitelock said he appreciated Foster contacting him about the decision a few days before the announcement.
“I was very thankful to get the heads up just before it was released and it allowed me to work out how I can help Sam, help Fozzy [Foster] out and work out what’s the best step for me going forward and where I can have the greatest influence and impact.”
Whitelock, 31, returned from Japan to spend lockdown in New Zealand after his plans to play overseas were derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic. He is now back with the Crusaders for Super Rugby Aotearoa, starting next month.
Despite a whirlwind few months, settling back into the team has been surprisingly easy, Whitelock said.
“It’s been pretty funny walking back into training. My first day back was Wednesday and Razor [Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson] said to me, ‘does it feel like you’ve been away six months?’, and I said, ‘it feels like I’ve been away for a month’,” Whitelock said.
“Even though there’s been so much going on – obviously playing in Japan, coming back to New Zealand for lockdown and spending that in the Hawke’s Bay, and then getting back here on Monday.
“So it seems like we’ve packed a lot into the past six months but it’s been pretty enjoyable. I’m just excited like everyone else; we want to get out there and play now. We’ve just got to do the right things and hopefully we’ll get that opportunity pretty soon.”
Whitelock will also have the opportunity to step away from his captaincy role with the Crusaders when Scott Barrett takes over the armband – something he admits may take some time to adjust to.
“It’s going to be interesting. I know my personality. I want to help out the team wherever I can. [Barrett]’s been awesome the past three days I’ve been at training. He’s leading really well and he’s got some great guys around him.
“So for me it’s slotting back in and watching, listening and see what’s happening. Then commenting or getting up alongside Scooter [Barrett] and saying ‘have you thought about this’ or ‘have you tried something else’.
“I’ve just got to make sure I don’t speak too much and help out where I can. So I’m looking forward to that challenge. It’s going to be completely different to what I’ve had over the past three years.
“It’s a change but it’s similar to what Kieran did for me. So hopefully I can help out Scooter when he needs, but he’s been outstanding at the start of the season and he’s been really good on the three days I’ve been back. So I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
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