Phil Gifford lists eight things you might not know about 2021 All Blacks captain, Sam Whitelock.
1) Rugby's in the bloodlines
Whitelock's father Braeden was a Junior All Black on an unbeaten five match internal tour in 1979, locking the Juniors scrum with future All Black captain, Gary Whetton. Mother Caroline's father, Nelson Dalzell, a Culverden farmer, played 17 games for the All Blacks, including five tests during their 1953-54 tour of Britain and France. Nelson's wife, Shirley, was the sister of Canterbury and six test All Black centre, Allan Elsom.
(A possible hint to the durability of Whitelock can be found in the fact that grandfather Nelson Dalzell should, by rights, not have been playing rugby at all. Serving in the Pacific during World War II Dalzell was severely wounded by a bomb blast, and carried splinters of shrapnel in his legs and back, with Army doctors talking seriously of amputation. Imbedded shrapnel stayed with him to the day he died, in 1989.)
2) Sam's childhood hero was a lock
"I was like any other kid, watching great All Blacks like Zinzan Brooke and Christian Cullen, that I think most kids my age watched and wanted to be," Whitelock said.
"But because I was a tall, skinny kid I remember watching Norm Maxwell, and the way he threw his body around on the field. The way he embraced going hard, even though he was probably a bit leaner than most people who expect an All Black lock to be. So he was definitely a guy I thought, 'If he can do it, why can't I play like him?'"
3) Competition started early
Born in Palmerston North, Whitelock is the third of four boys, George, Adam, Sam, and Luke, who would all play for the Crusaders, with George, Sam, and Luke making the All Blacks.
They grew up on a dairy farm outside Linton. They hunted possums at the back of the farm, joined by a pair of fox terriers. "We'd be building a hut, and compete over who had the best parts, but nine times out of 10 it always came back to sport. Being four of us, and being close in age, we always had teams. So it was always Adam and I versus George and Luke, the two middle ones against the oldest and youngest."
They played games like knee rugby on a trampoline.
"It did lead to the odd graze or blood nose when we were younger. But in saying that as we grew up we all became very good mates, and that's the way it is now."
4) It hasn't all just been rugby
Whitelock has a Bachelor of Science from Lincoln University, sitting exams all over the world. Lincoln would send the exam papers to All Black officials like Gilbert Enoka, and Whitelock would go to a room and "do the exam while everyone else would be out sightseeing or whatever."
He's pretty philosophical about catching up on historic places.
"There's a lot of travel time in the game now."
5) He didn't just find knowledge at university
Whitelock met his wife Hannah at Lincoln, where she was studying to be a winemaker.
Later she worked at Greystone Wines, an award winning 100% certified organic vineyard in Waipara, as an assistant wine maker.
6) The Whitelock worming regime for girlfriends is not an urban myth
All four boys went to boarding school in Feilding. The family joke was that it was cheaper than keeping them at home and feeding them.
Every time they came home from school for the holidays their mother wormed them. In 2017 Whitelock told me, "We still have the tongue in cheek thing now that when our wives and girlfriends came home, if they don't take the worming tablet a question mark was put upon them. It's become a family joke, but there's a lot of truth in the story too."
7) He's a man who looks beyond rugby
Whitelock's on the board of the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, enthusiastically promoting, amongst other things, a 156 page magazine called "Expand", a deeply researched examination of professional careers at home and abroad, and ultimately the move beyond playing days. "It's an important work. You can now go to it and get 95% of the information you need in one area."
Whitelock and his wife already own an 830 hectare farm, currently operated by his uncle and aunty, in the Hawkes Bay, where they run mostly sheep and beef cattle. Farming, and some social basketball, a sport he was good enough as a kid to make a national under-18 development squad, are likely to be in his life after rugby.
8) Razor really rates him as a captain
Four years ago Scott Robertson appointed Whitelock captain of the Crusaders. They won the Super title. Robertson said at the time, "You'll see Sam in a game, he wants everyone to look into his eyes, so that he knows he's got the connection. He gets everyone to take a breath. Everyone stays calm, and then it's 'Where do we go now?' Sam's ability to stay calm and find ways to win games is a testament to him as a skipper. You wouldn't believe it was his first year."