Rugby World Cup: How unbreakable Sam Whitelock turned back time to save the All Blacks - Sky
Rugby World Cup: How unbreakable Sam Whitelock turned back time to save the All Blacks
We all know old Father Time is undefeated, and likely to remain so as long as he’s swinging the dukes. But could it be that the All Blacks’ own ageless wonder, Sam Whitelock, is in the process of taking the great leveller the distance?
This will be Whitelock’s fourth World Cup – gaining him entry to an exclusive club of New Zealanders alongside the great Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu – and some time during the tournament, round about when pool play morphs into knockout footy, he will match and then surpass McCaw’s record 148 tests as the most capped All Black of all time. This is hallowed territory, no matter how you cut it up.
He is also a chance – a damn sight warmer than he was less than 12 months ago – of becoming the first player in the history of the game to be part of three World Cup-winning teams, following his Webb Ellis Cup-lifting feats of 2011 and ‘15. There is a lot of water to flow under that bridge, but it is a tantalising prospect that will come into focus as the quadrennial global event reaches its pointy end.
Whitelock is special. That much is beyond dispute. Only McCaw and the great Alun Wyn Jones (170 caps for Wales and the Lions) have played more tests than the Feilding-bred, Christchurch-domiciled second-rower, and he appears to be very much at the peak of his powers in the midst of a turn-back-the-clock season.
In fact you can probably track a late-career resurgence back a couple of years. Late in 2021, when the All Blacks were limping to the end of a challenging Covid-impacted campaign with back-to-back defeats to Ireland and France in their backyards, it appeared that Whitelock was on the decline. He and second-row partner Brodie Retallick (they have started a world-record 65 tests together) had been outplayed by the best of the north in both matchups in Dublin and Paris and there were even whispers calling for a changing of the guard.