Brains versus brawn in opener
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Bring on the pain. This is the message of veteran lock Sam Whitelock.
He was speaking ahead of New Zealand’s “pretty cool” opener against South Africa on Saturday.
Whitelock said certain things were guaranteed from a match with the Springboks.
“You know it’s going to be physical,” the 30-year-old second row forward said.
“You [know you] are going to be sore after the game – whether you play the 80 minutes or whether you come off the bench.
“With the physical challenge comes the mental challenge too and that’s something I really enjoy.”
Whitelock added while it would be “awesome” to become a three-time World Cup-winner, his focus is firmly fixed on Saturday’s encounter.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, Whitelock and centre Sonny Bill Williams could become the first players to win the World Cup three times should New Zealand retain their title and they all stay fit.
“It would be awesome to achieve that, but I think if you start thinking that way you potentially get into a lot of trouble,” Whitelock told reporters at the squad’s Tokyo hotel on Monday.
“I’d love to get there, but there are so many things along the way that we have to nail first.
“I get along with Sonny and Kieran really well and the welcome for us [in Japan] – we have to line up alphabetically, so Sonny and I were standing next to each other and we did share a couple of moments where we just said how awesome was it to do this in New Zealand, England and now.
“It was quite cool to have that 20 seconds where we reflected. But it was just that – reflection.”
The All Blacks and the Springboks, Rugby Union’s pre-eminent powers for much of its 148-year international history, launch their Pool B campaign in Yokohama on Saturday and Whitelock – a veteran of 112 Tests – is well aware of what is at stake.
“It’s one of those Test matches that every kid growing up wants to play,” he said.
“Some of my greatest memories when I was a little fellow were waking up and watching those games in the middle of the night,” the 30-year-old lock added.
“Having that opportunity to play South Africa at a World Cup in the opening game is pretty cool.”
Meanwhile, Whitelock said his appreciation of a World Cup had evolved over the course of his nine-year Test career.
“I played my first game for the All Blacks in 2010. In 2011 [when New Zealand won on home soil], I didn’t understand what a World Cup was, I didn’t understand the pressure, I was just excited to be in the squad.
“It was only when you talked to the boys who had suffered some defeats at World Cups and had different pressures that you actually understood how amazing it is to play at a World Cup.”
New Zealand endured a 24-year wait between winning the inaugural 1987 World Cup, which they co-hosted, and lifting the Webb Ellis Cup a second time.
One of their most painful defeats in between came in with a shock 18-20 loss to France in a 2007 quarterfinal in Cardiff, hours after England beat Australia in Marseille.
“I was living in Australia – I remember Australia were knocked out first and the All Blacks were knocked out after and the front line of the paper in Australia was ‘All Blacks Gone’,” said a rueful Whitelock.