Two All Blacks legends disagree over Sam Whitelock’s possible return

Colin Newboult
Sam Whitelock in action for the All Blacks during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Sam Whitelock in action for the All Blacks during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan thinks that Sam Whitelock could play Test rugby into his late 30s after the lock was linked with a move back to New Zealand.

New national team head coach Scott Robertson is reportedly in talks with the second-row about returning to the southern hemisphere ahead of the July Tests.

Following the departures of Brodie Retallick and Whitelock, the All Blacks are looking a bit short in the locking department.

Callow second-rows

Although Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu provide plenty of experience, below those two the options are rather inexperienced.

A potential Whitelock recall has received backing from ex-All Blacks head coach Laurie Mains and Kirwan equally falls into that camp.

The former wing also has the same opinion in regards to Beauden Barrett’s return, who will be available for the 2024 Test season after his stint in Japan ends.

“Do they start? I don’t think so. Do they come off the bench, do they get through to the next World Cup? I hope so,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.

One of the 59-year-old’s primary reasons for being “in favour” of Whitelock returning is that New Zealand “have to win between World Cups not just win the World Cup”, but he can also see the lock playing a role in Australia in 2027.

“Does he start? No. But the last 15 [minutes] at the next World Cup is going to be close. Who do you want running on? Someone with 20 Test matches or someone with 152?” Kirwan added.

Opinion: An All Blacks recall for Sam Whitelock is a straightforward decision

Jeff Wilson, who is worried about the wider impact going forward, is a bit more circumspect despite acknowledging the skills he can bring.

“He’s the best student of the game at the lineout that we’ve had for a long time, probably ever, for what he brought to the All Blacks and what he brought to the Crusaders,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that something the All Blacks are looking at and see real value in. The question mark I have is how often are you prepared to do this when players head off overseas?”

Wilson also posed the question: “Are you comfortable about players walking straight back into the All Blacks?” To which Kirwan replied: “At 152 Tests, I totally am”.

Playing at 40?

Kirwan would be quite happy with Whitelock remaining in the set-up over the next few years where he could potentially appear at the next World Cup at the age of 39.

Wilson disagrees, however, and thinks that it would be a bridge too far for the Crusaders legend to be playing at the global tournament when he is almost 40.

“Rugby World Cup at 40? I think that’s a bit beyond my imagination,” he said.

Wilson is not against Whitelock being involved this year, though, stating that “we shouldn’t forget how good he was at the Rugby World Cup coming off the bench.’’

“In terms of what he could offer for a season in terms of maybe playing six or seven Test matches if he’s at the top of his game, I think that’s really valuable,” the 50-year-old added.

“I would be okay with this for a year, but I don’t want this to become the norm.”

READ MORE: All Blacks great insists ‘mere mortals’ should not ‘question’ Scott Robertson over possible Sam Whitelock call