'There'll be no punches held back': Whitelock and Retallick set for rare showdown
If you weren’t excited enough for the clash for the clash between the Crusaders and Chiefs on Saturday evening, the head-to-head between Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick will make for an enthraling contest in of itself.
After spending two years in Japan, Retallick is back with the Chiefs this season and will take on the Crusaders for the first time since March of 2019, when the Crusaders dished out a 57-28 thrashing to their opposition in Christchurch.
Whitelock was absent from that match after skipping the opening month of the tournament in preparation for the Rugby World Cup and also missed the prior match between the two sides, meaning he and Retallick haven’t squared off on a rugby field since the opening round of the 2018 competition.
Whitelock and Retallick reunited with the All Blacks last season, which was a relief for many a Kiwi fan, but the chance to see New Zealand’s two premier locks go tête-à-tête should have those same punters licking their licks in anticipation. For Whitelock himself, going up against a teammate and friend will add an extra dash of enjoyment to Saturday night’s clash.
“It’s always great to play against some of your buddies but there’ll be no punches held back, obviously,” Whitelock said ahead of the match. “It’s great knowing them personally but it just means that there’s probably a little bit more of a desire to go out there and play well against your opposition.
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“In saying that, at the same time you can’t be obsessed with who you’re playing against because you don’t actually come up against them all that often. The way teams play now, lineouts, you’re marking different people the whole time. Same with the open field. But it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of and if you do get an opportunity to hopefully get one over your mate, well you try take it any day of the week.”
Despite the limited opportunities that will likely present themselves for the two powerhouses to clash on the pitch, Whitelock and Retallick will undoubtedly prove pivotal to their team’s fortunes in Christchurch.
The Crusaders currently sit second on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder with three wins from three matches while the Chiefs’ defeat at the hands of the Blues’ last weekend means they’re treading water in eighth place. Given the Crusaders’ relatively comfortable run so far, Retallick will be out to do what he does best – getting under the skin of his opposition and disrupting their flow. That might mean pushing the boundaries in contact, whether that’s in open play or at the breakdown, and the Crusaders will have prepared for what looms as an immensely physical contest.
“Any player wants to stick to their strengths and Brodie knows what his strengths are,” Whitelock said. “He’s obviously a very intelligent football player and brings that physical edge. That’s what he wants to do and it’s on us as Crusaders to not allow him to play to his strengths but sometimes talking about it’s one thing and actually doing it’s another.
“The main thing for us as Crusaders is we’ve gotta nail our own systems, our own things we’re trying to achieve, and then deal with that if that comes. We can’t get too worried around looking after one person with the opposition, we’ve got to make sure we sort our own stuff out first and then that normally sorts anything else out.”
The Crusaders and Chiefs have enjoyed a fierce rivalry over the past decade and the visitors will be looking to get revenge over the Crusaders for last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final, which ended 24-13 in the home side’s favour.
Saturday night’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT.
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