Rugby World Cup: Sam Whitelock puts record celebration on hold until after All Blacks' must-win game against Italy

All Blacks veteran Sam Whitelock admits the gravity of his historic achievement hasn’t quite sunk in yet and he’s unlikely to allow himself a moment to celebrate, until business is taken care of against Italy. 

Whitelock will become the most-capped All Black ever on Saturday, when he runs out for the 149th time, surpassing the great Richie McCaw. 

"I've thought about it a bit, but at the same time, I'll think about it a bit more once I’m actually out on the field," Whitelock told Newshub on the eve of his milestone match. 

Sam Whitelock lines up between Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane for national anthems.
Sam Whitelock lines up between Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane for national anthems. Photo credit: Photosport

"At the moment, it's a bit of a weird one - you’ve got to get there first before you can enjoy it."

Whitelock remembers test No.1 like it was yesterday, called in as an injury replacement for the June test series against Ireland in 2010.

"I actually missed selection and then a few of the guys were still broken - Tom Donnelly had a broken foot and Ali Williams had snapped his Achilles," he remembers.

"I just got called in for a couple of days as injury cover and then, seven days later, I was lining up, doing the anthem and things like that. It happened so quick, and it's something I look back now and go, 'I didn’t think that was going to happen' and I didn’t think this game was going to happen either."

It was a much different time back then - the All Blacks didn't have a single centurion when Whitelock debuted. McCaw would become the first the following year.

"When I first started, I think the highest cap was Fitzy [Sean Fitzpatrick] at 92 and of the current guys, it was Richie [McCaw] and Mils [Muliaina] - they were on 70 or 80 - so it's been pretty amazing," he recalls.

"Fitzy set the target for them, and then they’ve carried on and done it, so you've got to thank those guys that went out there and set us up." 

Since the moment he debuted, Whitelock has been a constant in the All Blacks.

He's played in every World Cup since the triumphant 2011 tournament on home soil, lifting the Webb Ellis trophy twice, but even at 34, with 148 tests under his belt, the buzz of the black jersey never wears off.

"I'm pretty sure, if you didn't get that buzz, I wouldn't be here, so I still love the challenge of getting out there and representing our awesome country," says Whitelock, who will have wife Hannah and their three kids in the stands at Parc Olympique Lyonais on Saturday. 

Sam Whitelock passes to Richie McCaw.
Sam Whitelock passes to Richie McCaw. Photo credit: Photosport

Their support has been a crucial part of Whitelock's success and longevity. 

"Hannah and the kids got over a couple of days ago, so they've been walking around like zombies, trying to sleep during the day and things, but really cool," he said. "A nice moment to just reconnect with them... I've been away for a few weeks, so nice to have some of that family time." 

The clash with Italy will also be Whitelock's 22nd World Cup appearance, equalling McCaw and England's Jason Leonard.

When he features next, whether that's against Uruguay or in a quarter-final, it will be his 23rd - more than any other player at World Cups.

Even more history awaits one of the All Blacks' greatest in France.

Join Newshub at 8am Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Italy World Cup pool clash