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Why Sam Whitelock is as hungry as ever to play for the All Blacks

By Finn Morton
Whitelock took captaincy duties off the injured Sam Cane in 2022. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Sam Whitelock may have played 143 matches for the All Blacks, but the veterans hunger is “exactly the same as it always is” ahead of a possible return to Test rugby.

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After overcoming a persistent Achilles injury – or so the rugby world thought – Whitelock lined up for his 178th and final Crusaders appearance in last month’s Super Rugby Pacific Final.

The French-bound lock, who has signed for Pau for after this year’s Rugby World Cup, helped the Crusaders win their seventh title in as many years and was named the Player of the Final.

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The champion Crusader had received the fairytale finish that he so rightly deserved in Super Rugby.

But Whitelock wasn’t quite at 100 per cent. That niggly Achilles injury returned, and the lock missed some training sessions once the All Blacks assembled in Auckland.

Whitelock travelled with the All Blacks to Argentina, but wasn’t named in the matchday 23. Then, a week later, the second rower was left out of the side to play South Africa.

But Whitelock appears to be nearing a return to the Test arena with the 34-year-old telling reporters that he is “in a really good spot” ahead of Bledisloe I.

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“I was cleared to play last game but just not selected,” Whitelock told reporters on Monday.

“I got through the full training week, which was good, and obviously I was in Argie as well, so I’ve been in and around the team for the last couple of weeks.

“Hopefully, team selection goes my way and I get the chance to get out there.”

Whitelock has formed a formidable partnership with Brodie Retallick over more than a decade, and the pair are expected to play a key role in the All Blacks’ World Cup charge later this year.

But both places face some tough competition.

Rising stars Tupou Vaa’i and Josh Lord have impressed during the opening two Tests of the year, and Crusaders captain Scott Barrett is another proven option in the second row.

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Whitelock said that “there is some heat” within the squad at second-row, but the veteran is just focused on what he can control – affirming that the “hunger is always there” to play Test rugby.

“The team has played really well the last two games,” he added.

“The hunger is always there and if your hunger changed, whether you’re starting, on the bench or not play, I’d be a little bit concerned about what your motivations are being here.

“My hunger is exactly the same as it always is – I want to be out there and playing good rugby for myself, but also helping the team in any way, whatever role that is.”

The All Blacks take on fierce rivals Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday evening.

New Zealand can lock up the Bledisloe Cup for another year with a win, and also secure The Rugby Championship title.

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1 Comment
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geoff 356 days ago

Sam Whitelock you are an absolute legend, hope you can go out on a high this year, however it will not matter on way or another as you have always given your all no matter what jersey you wear.

thankyou as a crusader an all black supporter, and as a rugby supporter, you are inspirational.

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William 3 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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