After arriving in France where he has signed a two-year deal with Top 14 outfit Pau, legendary New Zealand second-row Sam Whitelock said he hopes to find a positive side to the All Blacks’ narrow Rugby World Cup final loss to the Springboks recently.
Whitelock made his 153rd and final Test appearance in that encounter as the Boks held on for a narrow 12-11 victory over their arch rivals at the Stade de France in Paris.
Missed out on making history
That result meant Whitelock failed to become the first player in history to lift the famous Webb Ellis trophy for a third time after he was part of the All Blacks‘ Rugby World Cup winning squads in 2011 and 2015.
“I don’t think any rugby player that goes so close ever gets over it but you learn that you can’t change history,” Whitelock told AFP during his presentation as a Pau player.
“Hopefully I can take what I experienced and put a good spin on it at some stages.”
The 35-year-old is one of several All Blacks who have left New Zealand to further their careers at overseas-based clubs. That is usually the case after a World Cup cycle and after the global showpiece in France most of them, including the likes of skipper Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga have signed lucrative contracts in Japan.
Meanwhile, Whitelock, exciting wing Leicester Fainga’anuku and experienced prop Nepo Laulala have headed to France with the latter duo joining Toulon and Toulouse respectively.
“It’s a different way of life coming to France,” said former Crusaders stalwart Whitelock, who made the move with his wife and three children.
“We’ve gone from winter to winter, we’ll try and sneak away to some warmth at some stage.
“I’m looking forward to experience different things.”
At Pau, Whitelock will be captained by his younger brother Luke Whitelock, who made eight appearances for the All Blacks before moving to his French club in 2019.
“My little brother Luke has been sowing seeds, dropping hints, for the last three, four years,” said Whitelock.
“There’s been a bit of cheek in the family, asking if I am going to listen to him if tells me what do?
“We’ll have to wait and see if that’s true,” he jokingly added.
The older Whitelock joins a Pau side who are sitting pretty in second place in the Top 14 standings. That is a very different scenario for them as they have been involved in several relegation battles since their most recent promotion in 2016.
Pau were last crowned champions of France’s top-flight in 1964.
Set to make Pau debut later this month
Whitelock is not expected to make his debut for his new club until at least December 16’s Challenge Cup clash with Welsh outfit the Dragons.
“The club’s been doing outstanding so if anything it’s increased the pressure,” he added.
“I have to come here and perform.
“I have to add to the momentum that has been started.”