Rugby World Cup: Sam Whitelock continues to lift All Blacks' standards as the end approaches

Even as his final day as an All Black approaches, Sam Whitelock continues to lift the standards of those around him, including his coaches.

While the All Blacks' quest for a fourth Webb Ellis Cup is obviously at the front and centre for the team in France, this year's tournament has seen Whitelock continue to create history.

After going past Richie McCaw as the most-capped All Black against Italy, victory over Uruguay saw the 35-year-old saw the 34-year-old become the first Kiwi man to play in 150 tests.

Then, coming off the bench for test No.151 against Ireland last weekend, Whitelock affected the crucial turnover that sealed the All Blacks' win, ending an Irish assault that lasted 37 phases with the game on the line.

Sam Whitelock against Ireland.
Sam Whitelock against Ireland. Photo credit: Photosport

Having been with the All Blacks since 2010, World Cups are nothing new for Whitelock.

He's already won two, and if results fall New Zealand's way, will become the first man to win the Webb Ellis Cup three times in four attempts, a record that few other players will have the chance to match, let alone break.

At 35, Whitelock's role has changed in the last year.

The emergence of Scott Barrett as a world class lock has altered the selection picture to the point that Whitelock is now best suited to the bench, rather than start alongside longtime partner Brodie Retallick.

But the man himself has never sulked once.

In fact, as seen against Ireland, having your all-time most capped player as an impact substitute can turn out to be gold dust for the All Blacks in the true backs-to-the-wall moments.  

"He's just such a calming influence," said forwards coach Jason Ryan. "He can square up the room as well, he can put the room on edge when he needs to.

"With that game, having him out at the end, some of the messages he was working with skip [Sam Cane] and the other leaders, Ardie [Savea] and Richie [Mo'unga], it's invaluable really."

Regardless of the result in France, this year is Whitelock's last as an All Black, before he joins French club side Pau in 2024. 

As a pair, Whitelock and Ryan's time together extends to well before the All Blacks.

With the Crusaders, the pair were involved in multiple Super Rugby titles for the Crusaders under Scott Robertson.

With such a solid relationship, neither Whitelock nor Ryan are afraid to hold each other to account in the All Blacks' camp.  

Now, in preparing to face Argentina in the Rugby World Cup semi-final this weekend, every second of Whitelock's test experience will be vital for the All Blacks' chances at reaching another final.

"He's just honest, he doesn't avoid things," Ryan continued. "Him and I, we've had some great robust discussions. He makes me a better coach if I'm perfectly honest.

"He makes sure that I'm on. I challenge him to be better.  

"Even though he's played 151 tests, he still wants to be better. It's my job to make sure that I'm doing that as well, so we can raise the bar at both ends."

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