World Cup 2023: Sam Whitelock (New Zealand): “Playing for France? Never say never!”

World Cup 2023: Sam Whitelock (New Zealand): “Playing for France? Never say never!”

The second line of the All Blacks with 142 selections was decided in Rugbyrama a few months before the World Cup in France. The double world champion (2011 and 2015) also talks about his special relationship with Aaron Smith.

This season, I’ve played every game in full. At thirty-four, what’s your secret?

I’d love to have one (laughs)! But I think I’m mostly lucky to play the sport that I love. Rugby is obviously very physical and I made sure to work hard to be in shape for as long as possible. It was a big challenge for me.

She left the Crusaders only once to go to Japan. What prompted you not to change privileges?

I was really lucky and had the privilege of playing a lot for the Crusaders. It’s the team that made me dream as a kid and the team I wanted to play for when I left school. I just left Canterbury to go to Japan. It has allowed me to spend more time with my wife and children. It was really important for me to make the cut at that time.

Have you ever wanted to go to France?

Never say never (laughs)! My two brothers played in Bayonne and Pau and they loved the French culture and the way of life there. I spent a few days with Adam in Bayonne, when he was canoeing between 2014 and 2017, and really enjoyed the Basque Country. But I love New Zealand so much right now and see myself staying in the country (laughs).

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Sam’s brother, Adam Whitelock, played three seasons in Bayonne.
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If New Zealand wins the World Cup, they will be the first player in history to win the World Cup 3 times. Do you think about it?

I don’t think about it every day when I wake up. But that’s something I care about, yeah. Many people have talked to me about it, it would be amazing to achieve this performance. When I got my first choice I never would have imagined it. But for that, I have to be in the group first (laughs). I had a hand injury a few weeks ago and it just came back.

You’ve had a golden career, but what’s your biggest regret?

I do not regret anything. These are boat things, but I would have preferred to play more matches and win every match by a hundred points (laughs).

You were in college and high school with Aaron Smith, what do you remember?

We were in exactly the same class from 13th to 18th with Aaron. I think the craziest anecdote I had with him happened on our first day back at school. We came from different elementary schools, we were all in uniform, a little stressed out…well, for me (laughs). Then I see him coming in front of me yelling at me “Hey man, are you on my side? Shall we go to the same place?”. I believed “Who is this man, we are the first day of course I will go to the same place” ! It’s Aaron! He was always a little rude and annoying. But in the end, it’s such an honor to be able to play alongside a man I grew up with. We played for the All Blacks, at the World Cup, we both reached 100 caps… It’s crazy!

Aaron Smith shared Sam Whitelock's college life.

Aaron Smith shared Sam Whitelock’s college life.
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Like Ian Foster, do you think New Zealand is in transition?

Yes, I think it is difficult for any coach. “Fozzy” has had a daunting task getting to this point in All Blacks history. He has to release young players, try new strategies, it’s not easy. Young people should also challenge us, our elders. This is what every team needs. We are heading in the right direction.

What do you think is the biggest change in the second line role since you began your career in 2008?

Skill level clearly. Second lines today can make passes similar to three-quarters, they are able to carry the ball and control their opponents physically. In 2023 you must have a real background of skills to be 2nd line. Courtney Laws truly embodies that. The second thing to keep in mind is that the game and strategies have evolved so much that the modern second line must also play according to its partner, the style of play that its manager wants to impose. This was not the case before. One thing is for sure, and it goes for every position, rugby changes so much that you have to constantly evolve and adapt to stay at the top level. That’s what I try to do and that’s basically the advice I give to young crusaders or all blacks.

Sam Whitelock has won two world titles, in 2011 and 2015.

Sam Whitelock has won two world titles, in 2011 and 2015.
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I was the fastest All Black team to reach 100 caps. Is it pride?

I never thought I would achieve this feat. It went too fast for me. I went from Crusaders player to All Black in a year. Deep down I thought I wasn’t physically ready. I only weighed 106kg when I had to become 120, I was very skinny but I really wanted to get tough and grow alongside exceptional players. Guys like Brad Thorne, Kevin Melamo or Richie McCaw have accompanied me in their own way. I owe them a lot, they helped me a lot.

How do you feel about this year 2023?

particle! There are many great nations that can achieve ultimate victory in the World Cup. It is not like the previous editions. I believe there will be many surprises!

Will you stop your career after the World Cup?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. To be honest, I live this season day in and day out, you’ll see (laughs)!

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