All Blacks: Sam Whitelock takes stock of ‘up and down’ Test season

Rugby is definitely in Sam Whitelock's bloodline, with him and his three brothers representing New Zealand, but the All Blacks lock has revealed the full extent of his family's sporting lineage. Whitelock captained the All Blacks in the Autumn Nations Series and edged closer to Richie McCaw's record (148) for most appearances for New Zealand, earning his 143 test cap.  Credit: Alamy
Rugby is definitely in Sam Whitelock's bloodline, with him and his three brothers representing New Zealand, but the All Blacks lock has revealed the full extent of his family's sporting lineage. Whitelock captained the All Blacks in the Autumn Nations Series and edged closer to Richie McCaw's record (148) for most appearances for New Zealand, earning his 143 test cap. Credit: Alamy

All Blacks veteran Sam Whitelock reflected on an “up and down” 2022 Test season that had it all for the New Zealanders.

Whitelock and his countrymen started the year off poorly, losing the mid-year series to Ireland – the first time a northern hemisphere nation claimed a three-Test series win on New Zealand soil.

The misery was not over just yet as the Springboks comprehensively outplayed the All Blacks in Nelspruit during round one of the Rugby Championship.

Rollercoaster continued

However, in typical fashion, the side produced a brilliant performance to down the South Africans at a boisterous Ellis Park in a memorable win.

The joy was only short-lived as a rapidly improving Los Pumas side earned their first victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand during the next round, only to respond with a win the next weekend.

From then on, the All Blacks would go unbeaten for the rest of the year but not in convincing fashion with a controversial win against the Wallabies in Bledisloe I and a frustrating draw against England where they conceded a barrage of points in the final 10 minutes.

Speaking on The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast, Whitelock reflected on the year and believes the best way to get back on track is to simplify the game.

“We’ve had an interesting year,” Whitelock said. “It’s been up and down. We’ve had some really good performances; we’ve had some parts of games where we’ve been really good.

“Other parts (where) we’ve been less than average, our last nine minutes (against England) is a prime example of that.

“If I look at it now, it’s actually the same as what it was five years ago, 10 years ago. Any team can beat any team, and it doesn’t matter who or who or where.

“It’s actually you working out, ‘alright, what do I have to do right now?’ And that’s something that we talked about as a team and myself individually.

“So for me, ‘okay, work ethic, physicality’, all those things.

“Everything else is extra noise… it’s actually just doing your job. I know that sounds really simple and basic.

“I think of all the great teams in the past; they actually do the simple things really, really well. They just do their job.

“It’s actually a really simple game when you look at it, and sometimes we probably overcomplicate it.”

Control the controllable

The dip in form resulted in intense media scrutiny and pressure on the team, particularly head coach Ian Foster. However, Whitelock believes dealing with that is focusing on the thing the team can control, a piece of advice given to him years ago.

“The easiest way to sum it up is, what can you control? You can’t control social media, the comments, the scrolling. That’s people’s opinions,” he explained.

“The best advice I got given, and it was in 2011 when the pressure was on because everyone was using the whole ‘hey look, you haven’t won it for 24 years, what happens if you lose at home, will you ever win it?’ We just turned it around and said ‘what if we do?’

“We just took whatever their comments were and tried to turn it into a positive. From that, the conversation flowed… the paper was just writing everything they wanted, and everyone said ‘don’t read the paper.’

“That’s obviously harder to do now with social media, phones, internet, it’s everywhere… just don’t go on it, don’t follow those shows or those people that are really opinionated. Just get away from it.

“That’s what I did, and that’s what a number of the players have done.

“It’s going ‘is this extra noise, is this an emotional piece, or is this actually going to help me be better?’

“Easier said than done because in New Zealand, it is a fishbowl. If you walk down the street, if you ask the 10 people there they would all have a different opinion on who’s playing well, who should be the starting 15, etcetera.

“It’s actually saying to some of those people ‘hey, thanks for your help, but I’ve just got to worry about myself’ and go from there.”

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