Few players on the pitch when the final whistle went in Auckland were younger than Sam Whitelock. At 23, Whitelock’s rise over the last two years in Super Rugby with the Crusaders and then the All Blacks has been impressive. His form was so good that Graham Henry opted to start him in the Rugby World Cup final ahead of the experience of Ali Williams. Whitelock did not let him down.
Now a few months on from the final, Whitelock has been in London with some other All Blacks at Harrods to fulfil sponsorship duties with Adidas. Being in the UK & France at this time of year might seem odd timing, but Whitelock is happy to see the fans, and also you sense to escape New Zealand for a bit. “It’s been chaos ever since. You can’t really go anywhere in New Zealand without people talking about it. It was great to win it at home. I’ve only watched the game once since it all finished, but it’s so special for everyone.”
By clinching the game’s biggest prize at such a young age, Whitelock has arguably reached the pinnacle of the sport. The ambitions though that he started his career with remain intact. “I’ve been very lucky to win it so early on in my career, but there’s lots I still want to tick off. One thing that has really stuck with me after the final was speaking to some of the older guys with Owen Franks. They told us that we didn’t really know what it was like to win a World Cup, because we hadn’t lost one yet. Hopefully I’ll never have to go down that road.”
Realistically, Whitelock has another two, possibly three Rugby World Cups left in his career. Although a lot of the World Cup winning side were made up of players who suffered in 2007, sucked up the hurt and pushed on, there was also a young crop of Whitelock, the Franks brothers, Aaron Cruden, Colin Slade, Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg, all 23 or under. When it comes to international glory you anticipate he is only just at the beginning. Domestically, 2011 did not bring similar success for the young Whitelock. He started the Super Rugby final alongside his brother George in the pack, only to lose out thanks to a moment of magic from Will Genia.
“The bulk of the guys involved this time round were there last year in Brisbane, and there’s a strong feeling of unfinished business. Winning a Super Rugby has always been one of my personal goals, and we were pretty close last year. We didn’t quite get across the line, and we’ve learnt a lot.”
Whitelock will be taking on the opposition this season without Brad Thorn by his side. The influence of his elder second row partner has without a doubt left a mark on the young Crusader. The next step for Whitelock is arguably to fill the void that Thorn has left in terms of leadership. You sense that nothing would make him prouder than bringing some success to a region where he has a close personal connection, given his family’s background in Christchurch and that he plays with three of his brothers. “Playing with Luke, George and Adam is great. It will be tough but good to be back in Christchurch again after last year’s earthquake. My grandfather played for Canterbury and my Mum was raised there, so it’s a very special area for me.” Given how well things have gone so far, you sense he could soon be tasting even more success.
by Ben Coles
Sam Whitelock was speaking to The Rugby Blog at Harrods on behalf of Adidas.