All Blacks legend Sam Whitelock relishing Barbarians career finale after long wait

Farewell outing: Sam Whitelock will bid goodbye to professional rugby after 16 years at Twickenham (Getty Images for Barbarians)
Farewell outing: Sam Whitelock will bid goodbye to professional rugby after 16 years at Twickenham (Getty Images for Barbarians)

Sam Whitelock feared he would never play for the Barbarians after the Covid pandemic scuppered his first chance in 2020.

The most-capped player in New Zealand All Blacks history will play his last ever match in rugby, when making his Barbarians debut at Twickenham on Saturday.

The famed invitational team will host Fiji, as a warm-up to Wales’ clash with South Africa in a mouthwatering double-header.

Whitelock won the World Cup in both 2011 and 2015, finished third in 2019 and remarkably made the final in 2023.

The 35-year-old’s record-breaking New Zealand career ended on an unmatched 153 caps, and he finished his 16-year senior rugby run with French club Pau this term.

Now the rugged lock will hang up his boots for good by captaining a star-studded Barbarians team in west London this weekend.

“I was all lined up to play for the Barbarians in 2020, but then Covid happened and it all got put on hold,” said Whitelock.

“This was the next opportunity for me, and I jumped at it straight away. I did worry that the chance might not come again, it was exactly that.

“But you’ve just got to not overthink it, and if it came up I knew I would give it my best crack to be involved. I just had to hope, and luckily I got here.”

Former New Zealand and Australia coach Robbie Deans will lead a stellar Barbarians cast into action against Fiji.

The Barbarians trained against Mill Hill School’s First XV on Wednesday, in a semi-contact session that would have left the north London locals starstruck.

Whitelock has enjoyed his week with the Barbarians, as much for the famed social side of the special club as a focus on elite rugby minus an edge of pressure.

The Barbarians must battle to keep their place in rugby’s increasingly crowded calendar. Whitelock insisted the whole game must fight for the side’s future.

“You spend your whole career trying to get better and improve, and sometimes you really do need that break at the end of a season,” said Whitelock.

“It’s one of the main reasons I’ve never been able to play for the Barbarians even though I’ve always been really keen to do it.

“And I know so many great players around the world who feel exactly the same.

“But you play a 30-game year, all of a sudden to add another one on the end, can be challenging, especially if you have little ones at home, that can be quite hard after an end-of-year tour or similar.

“It’s the kind of environment and game that can throw up some magical moments though, and the sort of thing that can really inspire future generations into the sport.”

Tickets are still on sale for Saturday’s Twickenham double header, starting at £55 for entry to both matches. Visit Ticketmaster, Ticketek or the RFU to book your seats.