'They said 'Sam Whitelock was huge tonight' and I agree with them'
All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock has gone from strength to strength since taking over as the full-time captain in the absence of the injured Sam Cane and Saturday’s performance against the Wallabies was no exception.
The big second-rower appeared to be entering the final stages of his test career at the 2019 World Cup where he looked tired and worn-down, especially so in the semi-final loss to England where the abrasive pairing of Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes outplayed their more experienced opposites.
The long COVID-enforced break in 2020, coupled with Whitelock’s sabbatical to Japan, appear to have rejuvenated the 32-year-old, however, and the 126-test All Black is now entering career-best form.
Whitelock was again supreme in New Zealand’s record 57-22 win over the Wallabies on Saturday night, dominating the aerial battle at the lineouts and hitting breakdown after breakdown to ensure the All Blacks played with high-quality front-foot ball throughout the match.
He finished the match with eight carries to his name, the second-highest of any player in the team, just sitting one behind Akira Ioane and David Havili, and was also industrious on defence, clocking up 10 tackles.
All in all, it was an excellent all-around performance from the stand-in captain – and it didn’t go unnoticed by All Blacks forwards coach John Plumtree.
“I’ve had a couple of texts from mates that I respect in the game and they said ‘Sam Whitelock was huge tonight’ and I agree with them,” Plumtree said following the match. “He’s led this team beautifully from the start of the year and he put in a real captain’s performance.
“The Aussies came at us up front probably harder this week than they did last week and I think we stayed really composed and he leads that from the front. Outstanding.”
Plumtree was also pleased with how Whitelock was able to ensure his men stayed in control of the match and cool-headed from start to finish, despite a few mini scuffles threatening to rear up throughout the game.
“We addressed that [off-the-ball stuff from the previous game] on Sunday,” said Plumtree. “When we scene-setted our week, we knew some of that was coming because [the Wallabies] were under pressure and went about our work around how we were going to handle all of that.
“And again, that goes down to Sam, the leaders, just talking about it on the park and just making sure that we do stay composed and we focus on what we need to do.”
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Head coach Ian Foster was similarly impressed with his team’s discipline, especially after the relatively poor display last week which saw the All Blacks cede 18 penalties to their opposition.
“We made good strides,” he said following the win. “A lot’s been said about the discipline but I think we got stuck in a few periods of play last week at the start and at the end where our penalty count mounted up for other reasons and I think this week we climbed out of that, we stuck to what we’ve been working on and that takes great discipline. We were still put under pressure but we responded differently, which is pleasing.”
The All Blacks finished the game with nine penalties conceded to the Wallabies’ 11, with Ardie Savea eventually copping a yellow card for ongoing indiscretions in a short space of time from the home team.
That didn’t hinder the All Blacks’ charge to victory, however, who ultimately recorded a record points tally in the win.
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