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The missed tackle Sam Whitelock labelled one of his 'favourite moments'

By Ned Lester
Digby Ioane of the Wallabies evades the tackle of Sam Whitelock. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The curtain is officially set to close on one of the greatest careers rugby has ever seen. Sam Whitelock announced on Tuesday that he will retire at the conclusion of the current Top 14 season after 17 years of professional rugby.

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With two Rugby World Cups and seven Super Rugby titles, Whitelock is one of the most decorated athletes in rugby’s modern era, but when reflecting on his career it wasn’t the hardware but the journey that he remembered most fondly.

In a video posted online by the All Blacks, the team’s most capped player of all time recalls the top six moments from his illustrious career.

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Included in the moments were his debut, his 50th and his 100th games for the All Blacks, as well as his 96th game in the black jersey in which he became the 69th All Black captain and played alongside his younger brother Luke for the first time at the international level.

Whitelock shared heartwarming stories from each of the contests before arriving at a moment that wasn’t a milestone, yet he remembered it just as fondly as the rest.

“This moment is another where everyone sees the end product but for me, it was the lead-up to it,” Whitelock explained.

“So, I’ll set the scene: We’d lost to Australia before the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Then, playing them in the semi-final, they’ve come to the other side of the draw, which was not expected. The whole country was going crazy.

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“Digby Ioane caught a clearing kick that we didn’t kick out – we meant to kick it out – I missed the tackle and then Jerome (Kaino) stopped him, manhandled him, stopped him from scoring.

“For me, I was the guy that missed that tackle, so I remember after the game I slide next to Jerome and say thank you for tackling him because I was the guy that missed him at the start.

‘That was one of those little moments in that game but the game in general, the atmosphere, the pressure of being at home during a World Cup, being one of the younger players in the squad, being entrusted to go out there and perform on the greatest stage was just one of those moments.

“The crowd was chanting, both teams played exceptionally well. The pressure was as high as it can be so that’s definitely one of my favourite moments and you’ve always got to trust your teammates.”

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When announcing his decision to retire, Whitelock said it wasn’t an easy decision but the opportunity to spend more time with his family was exciting. He expressed his gratitude to all those who had supported him along the way.

“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 my 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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