Brothers Whitelock real stars of gritty victory
Just like the winning quarterback always seems to get the MVP at the Super Bowl, the No 10 gets far too many man-of-the- match awards in rugby. Tyler Bleyendaal, the Crusaders first-five, played a limited game plan well enough on Sunday, but Sam Whitelock may just have played the match of his career.
But of course Bleyendaal was the bloke who ended up on the stage at the end, smiling at the cameras, looking pleased with himself as first-fives tend to. There was no mention of the missed touch from a penalty or the ball chucked along the ground in the second half that could have been a crucial momentum killer. And no mention of big Sam.
Whitelock probably didn't mind overly much, being too knackered to drag his mighty frame across the pitch one last time. When the final whistle went most of the Crusaders turned to find a team-mate to hug. Whitelock crouched in a recovery position, creased by exhaustion.
It is a long while since we have seen a New Zealand lock play like this and I wonder if this night at Newlands may be the time when Whitelock moved on from a decent enough international second rower to a very good one.
There were moments of athleticism in this performance that reminded you of John Eales and minute after minute of grinding physicality that reminded you of Martin Johnson. Whitelock was in everything good about the Crusaders' performance.
Perhaps the most crucial stat of the night was the eight lineouts that the Stormers failed to secure on their own throw. Whitelock stole four of them, including the first lineout of the night. It set the tone of defiance and made the Stormers start to doubt themselves.
Whitelock also had a double hand in the try that got his team back into the match. His play was the sort of stuff that Eales once did on a rugby pitch, but the rest of Whitelock's game was all about grind, about taking on the Stormers physically. At one period of the second half the Crusaders went through 26 phases and were unlucky when George Whitelock was incorrectly ruled to have a knee on the ground as he placed the ball on the line.
That sustained possession is achieved only through efficient clearing out of the ruck and maul. Sam's clearing out on Sunday was remarkable, but then all the Whitelock brothers are good at removing bodies, and there were four of them on the pitch at this point.
Elder brother George was leading the side for the first time, second brother Adam had come on as a replacement, Sam was playing the game of his life and young Luke is trying to find a way into a side that has big brother at 6 and Kieran Read at 8.
A likely coincidence, but it was hard to ignore that when Adam came on to the pitch, making it a quartet of Whitelocks, the Crusaders trailed 11-0 and had two starting men down.
When Luke was replaced in the 65th minute the Crusaders led 14-11. It showed immense character.
There was certainly some sibling jostling going on. I particularly liked the moment when Sam told Luke to move over to cover the left side of a ruck. Deaf or youthfully disobedient, Luke was slow to react and so got a shove from Sam to push him into position. The shove just got young Luke over in time so that he could hang on to the Stormers hooker by his coat-tails.
That's brothers for you. These Whitelocks look like trappers from the frozen north and they grew up hunting and fishing barefooted in the frost and rousting about on a farm in Linton. Their dad, Braeden, says: "Our main focus is they're good guys and the rugby is extra."
But the rugby was never quite extra, it's in the blood. Braeden was a junior All Black and mum's dad, Nelson Dalzell, was capped five times in the early 50s. Dalzell was bombed during the war and spent a year in hospital. It left him with a hole in the leg that he used to fill with a piece of wood, before pulling on his sock and shin pad.
The grandsons still play like they are full of splinters, hard men or chips off the old block. And as coach Todd Blackadder says, they don't like coming second. Well, sorry George, magnificent as you were, you came second to Sam on Saturday.
The brilliance of the Whitelock brothers got me thinking about great sporting siblings. Here's my top 10.
1. Serena and Venus Williams - Grand slam dominance of an era by two of the greatest in tennis history.
2. Ian, Greg and Trevor Chappell - Three counts for extra, and two were great Aussie cricketers and the third a terrific underarm bowler.
3. Gary, Phil and Tracey Neville - Gary and Phil played more than 100 football games for England but Phil's twin, Tracey, had 81 caps in netball.
4. Eli and Peyton Manning - Two top quarterbacks, both with Super Bowl rings.
5. Bobby and Jack Charlton - The brothers played in England's only winning World Cup team.
6. Glenn, Greg and Brian Turner - Not as starry as some other selections, but what other brothers have represented their country in three sports - cricket, golf and hockey?
7. Jim and John Harbaugh - Jim was a fine quarterback, but the pair made history when they coached opposing teams in this year's Super Bowl.
8. Colin and Stan Meads - Two very fine All Blacks and one a great of the game, they stand comparison with the Charlton brothers.
9. George, Adam, Sam and Luke Whitelock - Two All Blacks, one under-20 World Cup winning captain, they could climb the list in years to come. And extra points for the power of four.
10. Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko - Two heavyweight champions from one family, although boxing is not what it was.
Who has been left out? Are you outraged the Hadlees and Crowes are not there or the Brownlee brothers from triathlon, ice hockey's Staal bros or the di Maggios and Molinas of baseball fame?
Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, using the word "Siblings" in the subject field, or leave a comment below.
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