Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders hail Sam Whitelock as veteran defies Achilles injury for title No.7

The Crusaders can use many words to describe Sam Whitelock, but "immortal" and "God-like" were a couple offered by coach Scott Robertson to encapsulate their stalwart's efforts in capturing a seventh Super Rugby title in as many years.

On Saturday, the veteran lock only added to his gargantuan legacy within the New Zealand game.

After an Achilles injury in the Crusaders' final regular season match, Whitelock, 34, defied belief, expectation and even his team's doctor to turn out in the Super Rugby Pacific final.

Despite the risk of further aggravating the injury - and jeopardising his Rugby World Cup participation - he played the entire 80 minutes at Hamilton and was named Man of the Match in another title win over the Chiefs.

The 25-20 victory ends Robertson's tenure the way it began and the way it's been every season since - victorious. Along with fellow departee Richie Mo'unga, Whitelock has been there for all of them.

In 2024, Whitelock will head to France to link with Top 14 outfit Pau, joining younger brother Luke for a well-earned payday.

With a title on the line, there was never any chance of Whitelock wouldn't run out for his beloved Crusaders one last time. For Robertson, Whitelock has been a key general in the Crusaders' decade of dominance.

Firstly as captain, then as support to current skipper Scott Barrett, Whitelock personifies what the Crusaders have become known for under Robertson, who reserves the highest praise for his lieutenant.

Sam Whitelock against the Chiefs.
Sam Whitelock against the Chiefs. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I think Sam's got to be mentioned... his performance, going 80 minutes and not coming off," he said. 

"We think he's an immortal in the game. He's a God-like figure to us [with] what he's done.

"The amount of games he's played... he just rises up every day. For him to have that moment is pretty special.

"In his mind, he was going to [play] - it was his Achilles that would have said no.

"The doc said no, but that's just the way he is in his mindset."

For the man who has spent years alongside Whitelock, the sentiment is exactly the same.

Locking partner Barrett has stepped into the comically large hole Whitelock vacated as Crusaders captain, but has never been far away from the support of his predecessor. 

"He's a calming influence," said Barrett. "He's probably an immortal in our game with the Crusaders.

Sam Whitelock and Scott Robertson.
Sam Whitelock and Scott Robertson. Photo credit: Photosport

"When I need to lean on him, whether it's a lineout or something go-to, he's really calming.

"He's a winner, he's a competitor. I'm proud to call him a mate.

"He lays everything out there, he's given so much to this jersey over so many years."