Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Join our mailing list now! Join our mailing list now!
Close Notice
Login
Logout
Show scores

Whitelock's incredible All Blacks evolution

Back

Sam Whitelock's incredible All Blacks evolution

By Liam Napier, NZ Herald

The evolution of Sam Whitelock takes on many forms.

New Zealand’s most capped lock has captured three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, two World Cup winner’s medals and now seeks to add a third in Japan.

It would seem Whitelock has ticked every box possible but this is a man who knows where he started, how he got here, and the value of never getting carried away.

One of three members of the All Blacks attending his third World Cup – Kieran Read and Sonny Bill Williams the others – Whitelock remembers playing his first nine tests off the bench in 2010.

Back then, when Brad Thorn held the second-row together, the Feilding High School product was much slimmer, weighing around 106kg.

Continue reading below…

Video Spacer

“That’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me because I probably wasn’t ready or good enough to start,” Whitelock tells the Herald as the All Blacks prepare for their second World Cup match against Canada in Oita next week. “I needed to put on some more muscle and strength so I could actually look after myself out there.”

To cope with the rigorous tight-five demands Whitelock’s weight-gain programme gradually bulked him up to the point he once tipped the scales at 122kg. He now sits around 120kg.

“It’s a fair bit of weight I’ve put on over the years. That’s the biggest thing I’ve changed individually. That allows me to put up with the challenges of test match rugby week in, week out.

“For the first couple of years it was pretty hard because you don’t want to just go and put on 10kgs because your game will suffer massively.

“I was pretty much told to eat as much as I can and go back for more and keep doing it.

“After a while they say you can’t keep doing that because you’ll put on too much. That was my path. Some other guys arrive and have to lose a bit of weight so it’s completely different.

“It is interesting talking to someone who wants to eat more but knows they shouldn’t compared to someone who is told to eat more but they’re full.”

When any All Black is first selected the initial induction is focused on making sure they feel as comfortable as possible to minimise overwhelming anxieties.

It’s hard to believe now, after almost a decade in the black jersey and with Whitelock earmarked to succeed All Blacks captain Read next year, but he remembers this period well.

“The longer you are around, the more is asked of you. The first thing you are ever told as an All Blacks is to go out there and worry about yourself and you have to play well. That’s the start, and it’s actually really easy to just worry about yourself. As you grow, evolve and get better your priorities are the same but there’s other things added on.”

Aside from morphing into an influential leader with the Crusaders and All Blacks, the other part of the equation involves following the game’s trends and ever-changing tactics.

These days it’s not enough for an elite lock to simply win their lineouts, restarts and clean rucks. All Blacks second-rowers are expected to use deft, soft hands at the line, get up off their feet and make repeat tackles and run in open field like outside backs.

More than any personal records or public accolades, this constant quest to adapt continues to motivate Whitelock, who recently signed a new four-year deal.

“The way the game has developed has been an awesome challenge. Teams change from an expansive game to a more confrontational, tighter game. Some teams change year-to-year, some change game-to-game.

“That’s one of the reasons I still enjoy my rugby because you don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know how the coaches and management want us to play. That’s the variety that keeps me wanting to be here.

“Numbers are just numbers you can manipulate anything to make something sound good. I know I want to prove to myself and my family that I’m good enough to be out there. Every week it’s different challenges.

“The biggest thing I’ve learnt so far in my career is not getting obsessed with a goal or something that potentially might be someone’s opinion. As long as you’re getting better each time that’s the main thing you can do.”

The variety Whitelock notes in the All Blacks game has arguably never been more important. Over the past two years, as line-speed defensive systems dominate, the All Blacks have been forced to overhaul their strategies, particularly from an attacking sense.

While much is made of the dual playmakers they now favour their forward pod systems and how they attempt to split and stretch the opposition defence has also changed complexion.

“Looking at the head coaching role it’s probably one of the hardest jobs anyone could have because you’re expected to win every game by as many points as you can but you’re also expected to develop individuals and the team.

“We’re the same as players. We’re always trying to be better each week and sometimes it takes time. We’re pretty happy with where we sit at the moment but we know we’ve got to improve all the time.

“As good as all our fans are, they have awesome standards that they expect from us and that matches with our standards as well.

“If you didn’t know there was an expectation being an All Black in New Zealand before you become an All Black, you’d have to be asked what you thought you were getting yourself in to.”

After being nurtured into the All Blacks initially, Whitelock has since started 94 of his 113 tests, testament to the 30-year-old’s durability.

He is never happy watching but, having been forced to sit out the first five matches of the Crusaders season, he arrives at this critical juncture mentally and physically refreshed.

“It was really hard not to play when I was ready to go but that’s really set me up to be in a good spot now. I’m not getting to this stage being injured, tired or any of those things so it’s worked out really well.”

As this tournament progresses, before he enjoys a sabbatical stint with the Panasonic club in Japan next year, Whitelock’s experience will be leaned on heavily.

“When I retire and reflect I’ll sit back with a smile on my face. At the moment it seems pretty surreal. When stories come up about 2011 and you go to reminisce you realise these people weren’t there.

“That’s when it probably hits home a bit more.

“It’s pretty cool to say you’ve been involved in them but the big thing now is making sure we perform in this one. We’re one game in and we’ve got a 10 day wait at the moment but it’s then going to happen very quickly.

“There’s something about the World Cup that’s very special.

“You worry about where you’re having influence whether it’s your personal mindset, your team, team-mates rather than getting caught up in the whole World Cup atmosphere.”

Such wisdom has been gleaned during the evolution of a lock that sits among the greatest New Zealand has produced.

This article first appeared in nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission.

In other news:

Video Spacer

Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.

Sam Whitelock's incredible All Blacks evolution