As the All Blacks take to the field for the Rugby World Cup final, eight of the men in black will say their farewells to the jersey, hoping to coat their legacies in gold.
It’s an emotionally charged occasion for players and families alike, but especially for the Whitelocks, with a special place in history hanging in the balance.
No-one knows this feeling better than the Whitelocks – the eve of an All Blacks game.
The nerves, the adrenaline, the pressure and the hype… for almost all of Sam Whitelock’s record 152 games in black, his parents have been there.
“I don’t know for sure, but most of them,” said mum Caroline Whitelock. “Certainly as many as we can, because you’re only there for a short time, aren’t you?”
Well, the veteran lock has been there for a very long time.
“Imagine how much that’s cost us,” laughed dad Braeden Whitelock.
There’s laughter and smiles, and plenty to celebrate, but as the curtain falls on 13 years at the top, what has become ‘normal’ for the Whitelocks is suddenly weighted with new meaning.
“We’ve got to transition out of rugby as well, but like I say, we’ve had a fantastic journey,” said Caroline.
It’s not over just yet.
Whitelock, 35, is now just 80 minutes away from becoming the most decorated player in rugby history.
“To be the first man to win three would be pretty special,” said All Blacks coach Ian Foster. “You know, if it happens, we would feel pretty honoured.”
The young lock burst into the black jersey in 2010, with two tries on debut, setting the tone for a gutsy and golden career.
“It’s been a pretty special ride,” said brother and one-test All Black George Whitelock.
From a childhood of backyard rugby with his brothers in Manawatu to now a truly unprecedented shot at world rugby history at Paris.
“Very proud watching Samuel,” said brother Adam. “A wee bit nervous, as you naturally are, but we’ve watched him so many times, so we know he’s just going through his process and doing the best he can.”
Sam Whitelock will watch the beginning of this weekend’s final from the bench, but there is no taking the shine off his All Black legacy.
The final captain’s run is a family affair, marking the end of an era with humble handshakes and hugs.
“It’’l be a big change, but life goes on,” said Adam.
First, one more battle in black and one more good luck message sent off from mother to son.
“He just sends back a one-word answer, saying ‘Thanks Mum’,” said Caroline. “I’ve done that for years and I’ll do that tomorrow as well.”
Then, one last visit to see the All Black great at work.
“He’s just Sam,” said Caroline. “He’s just one of the boys.”
Within hours, “Just Sam” could also be the most crowned rugby player of all time.
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