Rugby World Cup: Sam Whitelock credits All Blacks greats after equalling Richie McCaw's record

Now standing alongside Richie McCaw as New Zealand's most-capped player, Sam Whitelock credits the All Blacks of yesteryear for setting the example of how to become an all-time great.  

On Saturday (NZ time), Whitelock took the field for the 148th time in the black jersey, equalling his former captain's tally of test caps, with only Wales' Alun Wyn Jones (170) playing more internationals than the Kiwi pair.  

What's more, with the All Blacks guaranteed at least two more games in pool play – with Italy and Uruguay to come - as well as a prospective quarter-final, it's well within reach that Whitelock could become the first Kiwi to play 150 tests.

Sam Whitelock and Richie McCaw (2011).
Sam Whitelock and Richie McCaw (2011). Photo credit: Getty Images

That, coupled with being one of a handful of players to win two Rugby World Cups and numerous Super Rugby titles, is an earned achievement for a man who has quietly become one of New Zealand's greatest players.   

At 34, this World Cup will be Whitelock's last.   

Next year, he'll join younger brother Luke in playing for French club Pau and, therefore, be ineligible to turn out for the All Blacks - as per New Zealand Rugby's selection policy.   

With his days in the black jersey numbered, Whitelock instead chose to look back and give credit for those who lay the platform to achieve the feats he has.  

"It's a weird one, actually," professed Whitelock. "When I first started, Richie, Mils [Muliaina] and those guys were on about 70-80 test matches.

Sam Whitelock.
Sam Whitelock. Photo credit: Getty Images

"They set the tone for a lot of us younger guys coming in. They set the benchmark and it gives something to chase or aspire to.  

"It's very humbling to be anywhere near those guys."  

Now, though, Whitelock will undoubtedly look to finish his test career with a third World Cup - a feat no player in the men's game has achieved.  

But unlike other years, the All Blacks are considered outsiders to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the fourth time.  

A tournament-opening loss to France showed that there is still plenty to do for the All Blacks and, while the 71-3 win over Namibia would have restored confidence, the true yardstick won't be measured until the quarter-finals at the earliest.  

For Whitelock, the onus is now on the All Blacks to build back from where they were at the start of the year and being exposed to nations like Ireland, South Africa and France gives ample opportunity.

"It doesn't matter what tournament it is, but a World Cup even more so," he added. "We've just got to grow, evolve, adapt.

"Teams are playing differently at this World Cup. We're kind of working that out with the weather. 

"It's [about] working out what we need to do, and how we need to do it.  

"But at the same time, it's a great opportunity when we do get that stuff coded to go have a look, see what they're doing and how they're doing it."

The All Blacks will now enjoy a week off, before returning to action against Italy in Lyon on September 30.