Hansen hails ‘big leader’ Whitelock ahead of 100th cap

Sam Whitelock’s switch to a more instinctive style of play has seen him become one of the world’s best locks, according to New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen.

Whitelock is set to win his 100th cap when the All Blacks face Australia in their Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener in Sydney on Saturday.

The 29-year-old will become just the eighth Kiwi to reach the landmark, and the first man in his position to do so.

Having captained the team previously in the absence of Kieran Read, Whitelock has developed into a senior figure among the all-conquering All Blacks side, which won six out of six in last year’s competition for a dominant defence of the title.

“When he first came in, he was a deep thinker,” Hansen said of Whitelock in a media conference. “Everything had to be perfect and there wasn’t a lot of flexibility in that thinking, so that probably inhibited him a little bit.

“He now trusts his own instincts and doesn’t have to see it, think about then do it, he just does it instinctively and that’s improved him immensely I think. He’s always been a quality athlete.

“I think sometimes we forget that because the other guy is so good in Brodie [Retallick], and Sam, I think, in his own right is one of the world’s best locks. He can carry, he can defend, he’s good in the set-piece both in scrum and line-out.

“I remember when he played about 20 Test matches we sat down and he gave me the goal that he wanted to play 100 Test matches and he’s achieved that. To do that, you’ve got to be playing well consistently to get 20.

“To be able to get 100 just tells you how quality of a player he is. So we’re very proud of him and he’s a big leader in our team now.

“He’s obviously led the All Blacks in the last four Test matches while Reado was out and did a fantastic job of that. He’s a great lieutenant to Reado as well now. He’s only 29 so he should get a few more too. It should be quite exciting.”

International team-mate TJ Perenara said recently that he “hated” playing against Whitelock at club level – a comment the man himself takes as a huge positive.

“I think that’s the biggest compliment you can get,” Whitelock said. “Our job as tight-forwards is to annoy [number] nines, 10s and 12s in and around that breakdown and ruck so it’s good to know that I was getting to him when I’ve played against him.

“They [Australia] are the neighbours. They’re across the ditch and it’s the Bledisloe Cup. It’s very very special for us at any stage playing for the All Blacks but playing against an Aussie gives us that extra little bit of motivation in there and I think you can feel that this week within the environment that the boys are up for it.” News wire is powered by opta

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