Whitelock brings up Super Rugby milestone earlier than planned

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FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Training
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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Sam Whitelock was not supposed to be involved in Super Rugby at all this year but on Saturday he will join an elite group of Canterbury Crusaders by playing his 150th game for the team.

The 31-year-old had received dispensation to miss Super Rugby and play in Japan this year but the novel coronavirus outbreak saw him return home early.

Linking up again with the Crusaders, Whitelock is the seventh Crusader to reach 150 Super Rugby caps for the team.

"It's been awesome," Whitelock told TVNZ on Thursday.

"For myself, a real special (memory) was being here with my three brothers (Adam, George and Luke).

"We've been through some pretty challenging times but it's been enjoyable the whole time."

Whitelock, who has played 117 tests for the All Blacks, said he would auction his jersey from the game to raise money for a rural wellbeing group that supports farmers.

The Crusaders face a Chiefs side who have lost a club record seven successive games across both Super Rugby and New Zealand's domestic "Aotearoa" competition.

However, the six Super Rugby Aotearoa losses suffered by the Chief have been by an average margin of just five points and in three of the games Warren Gatland's side were in a strong position to win in the final minutes.

"The Chiefs ... could have won their last three games," Crusaders assistant coach Scott Hansen told reporters in Christchurch.

"It's a tough competition, possibly the toughest in the world and that's good.

"We (have an) understanding of the importance of this weekend. We know what we're walking into."

The Crusaders lead the competition on 19 points, two ahead of the Auckland Blues and three in front of the Wellington Hurricanes, and could put one hand on the title with a win in Hamilton.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford)