Sam Whitelock emerges from Brodie Retallick’s shadow

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    Sam Whitelock has been named to captain the All Blacks for today’s test against Wales. It will be his 95th test and his first as captain.

    Rugby fans in New Zealand would rate Whitelock as many things – an integral part of the modern-day All Blacks, a superb modern-day lock and absolutely part of the senior player group – but he has played so many of those 95 tests alongside Brodie Retallick.

    An excellent article on The Roar earlier this week rating the nominees for this year’s world player of the year showed how quickly Retallick’s name crops up the minute that awards are mentioned – and equally how quickly other forwards pale in the comparison to him.

    If anyone is going to go on to a legacy approaching that of the late great Pinetree Meads, it will be Retallick.

    Yet locks tend to operate in partnerships, and Whitelock has been a huge part of Retallick’s success, just as he has benefited from the skill and energy of his partner in crime.

    In the same way Kieran Read is so often mentioned when opponents are asked to name the player they respect most, the one that they feel adds the x-factor to the All Blacks and the Crusaders.

    Read is an excellent All Blacks captain – and what task that was, taking on the mantle after Richie. But Whitelock seemed a very natural fit into the captaincy role he fulfilled this year in the all-conquering Crusaders juggernaut, and he has been the quiet achiever in for so long under Read.

    Now we get to see Whitelock lead the haka and then the team without both Read and Retallick.

    Add in Whitelock’s brother in the place of Read and the fact their family will be there watching in Wales, where Sam’s grandfather played as part of the last All Blacks team to lose there in the 1950s, and 95 tests later my money is on the hulking lock for a man-of-the-match performance and a typically understated captain’s interview afterwards.