Rugby: Tributes flow for retiring All Blacks legend Sam Whitelock

Even as he neared the very end of his All Blacks career Sam Whitelock was as influential as ever, no better exemplified than in his match-sealing turnover won against Ireland during last year's World Cup quarter-final win over Ireland.

But that influence has now come to an end, with Whitelock's focus changing from footy to family.

"It wasn't a decision we came to lightly but it's the right thing for myself, the right thing for my wife, and for our three kids," said Whitelock.

Whitelock's All Black career began in 2010, the start of a tenure that saw him redefine what an All Blacks lock looked like. 

"He's probably the modern-day Colin Meads," said former All Blacks coach Sir Steve Hansen." 

Sam Whitelock doing what he did best.
Sam Whitelock doing what he did best. Photo credit: Getty Images

Hansen worked with Whitelock for a decade in the All Blacks and cherished their time together.

"To get there, you have to be good. To stay there that long, you have to be really good, and you enjoy every moment with those people because they're in the fight with you," he added. 

Sir Graham Henry awarded Whitelock his first All Blacks cap and feels the influence he had on those around him is what set him apart.

"He had massive respect from his fellow players," said Henry.  

"They had a lot of confidence in him, and so he became a leader and they followed." 

That's a sentiment Dalton Papalii can attest to.

Both were on the bench for the famous quarter final win against Ireland. Papalii say,s even from the sideline, Whitelock was leading.

"Sometimes I would look to the crowd and be 'wow, this is a big occasion'," he recalled. "But he would lock you back in like 'hey man, this is our job to do when we get on'."  

In his 180 appearances for the Crusaders, Whitelock made every post a winner.

Proving in 2015, he really could do it all with a 60m try that defied his position. 

Whitelock bows out with seven Super Rugby titles, two World Cup winners medals, to go along with a silver and bronze.

"I never counted the tests, I just made the tests count," Whitelock added. 

All 153 of them.