Rugby World Cup: All Blacks put veteran Sam Whitelock back in driver's seat for semi-final against Argentina

Veteran lock Sam Whitelock has been promoted back into the All Blacks starting line-up, as coach Ian Foster tweaks the role of his most-experienced performer for the World Cup semi-final against Argentina.

In previous must-win fixtures against Italy and Ireland, Whitelock has operated off the bench, even bringing up his record 149th appearance among the reserves against the Azzurri.

On both occasions, Foster highlighted the need to bring that experience late in the contests, a ploy that played massive dividends against the Irish in the quarter-final, when Whitelock sealed victory by stealing ruck ball on his own goal-line to end a period of sustained defence against their desperate rivals.

Sam Whitelock in action against Ireland.
Sam Whitelock in action against Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

This week, that mana will be needed from kickoff.

"It's a massive game," Whitelock told AM. "It's the games you want to be involved in and the games you want to play big minutes in, so I'm very, very humbled.

"I know the 15 guys selected to start are excited to get out there. We know it's a World Cup, so it's do or die.

"All four teams now left in the competition want to go ahead and make that final, and that's what we're setting out to do."

Foster has changed his tack against the Pumas, although dropping lock Brodie Retallick and his 107 caps to the bench is a relatively minor concession. He has also dropped 89-cap hooker Dane Coles, another whose savvy has proved essential late in games.

"I didn't start last week," said Whitelock. "You probably have to talk to the coaches about that, but I think the cool thing is everyone wants to and is stepping up in that 33-man squad at the moment.

"Everyone wants to be out there and playing. At training, we're competing a lot and I think that's definitely helping the squad... when we get into a game, we're in that mode straight away.

"If you look back to look forward, we've had some good performances and they have been set up by the non-23 that have competed at training, and set the 23 to go out there and play."

Whitelock provides an insight into the hectic final few minutes against Ireland, when the opposition threw 38 phases against the All Blacks defence, which held strong against the all-out assault.

"The last couple of minutes was exactly like everyone would think it's like," said Whitelock. "We were all breathing pretty heavily, but we were actually really calm out there, and the communication and talk was awesome. 

"We felt really secure and the guys just kept fronting up. That's what we've always talking around and it felt like we took a really big step in that area and it's something we have to do again this week, because Argentina are an outstanding side.

"We've played against them quite a few times over the past 10 years and they will challenge us in different ways to what Ireland did. We're going to need that resilience and communication, because when we're all on the same page, it allows us to do our job."

After a titanic effort to dispatch the world No.1, the All Blacks must now regroup and refocus on opponents that they have largely handled easily over the history of their rivalry.

Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith celebrate victory over Ireland.
Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith celebrate victory over Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Pumas achieved their first-ever win over New Zealand during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and their first victory on NZ soil last year, but most recently, fell 41-12 at Mendoza in July.

 Whitelock is well aware his team cannot simply assume they will make the final.

"We can't worry about next week and all those things." he said. "This week is what it all is - it's our final.

"The guys have been really good at focusing on the here and now. We've been focusing on day to day, but it is getting closer to gametime.

"I'm aware of it, people keep bringing it up, we'd love it to happen, but the reality is we must focuse on the here and now."

Join Newshub at 8am Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Argentina World Cup semi-final