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‘One of the best’: Sonny Bill Williams’ praise for ex-All Black Sam Whitelock

By Finn Morton
(L-R) Sam Whitelock, Julian Savea and Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks during the International Test Match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Eden Park on June 9, 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams has described former teammate Sam Whitelock as “one (of) the best” players in All Blacks history after the legendary lock announced his retirement earlier this week.

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Whitelock, who is the most capped All Black in history with 153 appearances, was recently linked with a shock return to international rugby after New Zealand coach Scott Robertson reportedly approached the Test veteran.

But at 35 years of age, and before his 36th birthday in October, Whitelock has ruled out a Test rugby comeback. The New Zealander announced that he’ll hang up the boots at the end of the current Top 14 season where he’s currently playing with French side Pau.

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As Whitelock prepares to sail into the rugby sunset, players and fans alike have made sure to express their admiration for the retiring former All Black ahead of the final chapter in the history of his decorated career.

After a career that included three Rugby World Cup final appearances and more than 10 Rugby Championship crowns, the rugby community has celebrated Whitelock as one of the greats.

“One (of) the best to ever wear an All Blacks jersey,” dual international Sonny Bill Williams wrote on X. “Was always humble and caring, yet fierce and a player you’d follow into battle any day of the week.

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“He had a special way where he could relate to all the boys from all backgrounds in the sheds. Grateful to have suited up alongside brother Sam.”

Former New Zealand cricketer Ian Smith – who is also a popular rugby broadcaster – put the second-rower on the same level as legendary All Black Colin Meads on SENZ this week. That’s just the type of player that Whitelock was in the black jersey: a legend.

World Cup-winning coach Sir Steve Hansen expressed that same opinion on 1News by describing Whitelock as “a modern-day Colin Meads. He will be in folklore.”

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Whitelock played at four Rugby World Cups, won more than 120 Test matches in the black jersey, secured one of the most famous turnovers in rugby history during last year’s quarter-final win over Ireland, and is a decorated Crusader at Super Rugby level as well.

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While a return to Test rugby was apparently on the cards, Whitelock has put his family first by making the decision to walk away from the sport he so clearly loves.

“I’ve been having a few conversations with my wife Hannah and the kids around what the future looks like for us,” Whitelock said.

“And it’s time to finish the playing chapter of rugby.

“I think if you talk to anyone who has played for a long time, that desire (to compete) never leaves, it’s just that stage of life when you move on.

“It’s not a decision that we have come to lightly, but it’s the right thing for myself and it’s the right thing for my wife and our three kids – Fred, Iris and Penelope.

“And I think that is what excites me the most – spending more time with my kids and wife, and actually watching them play sport. Being able to go to the cross-country at school and those things.

“It’s hard to thank everyone, but obviously Hannah has been a massive part along with my parents, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunties and grandparents. And also the fans in general, they’ve been so receptive of myself and also the way I play.

“I’m very appreciative of the support I’ve had and there is no way I could have achieved the things I’ve had without them.”

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