Hard-man All Blacks lock a team player

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2012

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Throughout the history of the All Blacks there has regularly been a hard-nosed lock in the team's engine room.

A player who'd never take a backwards step, would lead by example and dish out punishment to any opposition player who tried something on.

Of course, the great Colin Meads is the most memorable player who's taken on that role.

During his illustrious All Blacks career, in which he played 55 tests, he made his mark in every appearance. No one ever tried putting a cheap shot on Meads, not if they had any sense.

In the 1990s Robin Brooke took on that role while in more recent years Brad Thorn held the post as the All Blacks' second row enforcer.

But with Thorn gone and Ali Williams struggling to nail a place in the starting team, it falls on Sam Whitelock to take over the baton.

At the age of 23 Whitelock is on the young side to fill this role, but it's one he says he's ready for.

"This is the first time I've been the senior lock as such," Whitelock told Sunday News.

"But once we get out there, everyone is a leader so we've got to make sure we all lead and take the steps throughout the week so that when we get out there we're all ready to go and it works like clockwork.

"Within any team there are players everyone turns to for support on the field and off it and in our team we still have those guys and I think that's really healthy."

While Whitelock is becoming a leader in the All Blacks, when it comes to talking to the media, he has a way to go to be up there with Conrad Smith, Williams and Cory Jane in terms of giving good copy.

He is more on a par with Kieran Read and Liam Messam, in that they're chatty but not really about themselves.

They take that team ethos all the way and invariably when you ask a question about their game, they'll give you an answer referring to the team.

The one Sunday News put to Whitelock about whether he sees himself as being the All Blacks' hard-nosed tough bugger is a fine example of this.

"Everyone in the team needs to bring in that approach and that's something that's really going to help us," he said.

"As a forward pack we always want to improve from week to week so we need to make sure we're all working hard – and no one taking a backwards step would be really good for the whole team."

You see?

With four locks in the All Blacks squad, competition is high for the starting spots. For the first two tests, selectors went with Whitelock and Brodie Retallick and had Williams on the bench but it's likely that Luke Romano will get his chance next weekend in Hamilton for the third and final test against Ireland.

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"There is great competition in this team, every player is ready to go and they're all training really hard," said Whitelock, obviously happier to not answer a question about himself.

"That's a positive for us when there's pressure on us to perform.

"When you think back to before the World Cup, with the wingers, there was pressure on them to perform and everyone was playing really well."

Having now spent a bit of time working under the new All Blacks coaching regime, Whitelock says things are falling into place and that Steve Hansen has stepped up well to his new role as head coach – likewise Mike Cron, getting promoted from scrum to forwards coach.

"I'd been involved with the old coaching structure and a bit of a shake-up is good," he said.

"They were excited about their new roles and everyone's reacted well to the change.

"Steve does have more responsibility and pressure and it's the same with Crony.

"But they haven't changed at all, they're still the same guys that we've got to know over the last couple of years."

- Sunday News

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