All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock has been around Test rugby long enough to know that letting your guard down against Australia can be costly, and avoiding that will be the goal in Melbourne on Saturday for the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup game.
A win would secure the Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe Cup for the All Blacks. Still, with veteran coach Eddie Jones back at the helm, the Bledisloe Cup holders know they can expect a defiant Australian team while Whitelock, if selected, is looking forward to locking horns with an old rival, Will Skelton, who has returned to the side after a long absence playing rugby in France.
Whitelock said, “It’s always hard the first time you play any team and this will be our first go against Australia. They’ve got some different guys. Will Skelton is back. I played against Will early on in both our careers. He will add a different element to their game, so it’s just understanding what his strengths are.”
It was a case of not only looking at the Wallabies but also looking at the All Blacks and getting the balance right across the team.
“We’re on a high at the moment, but we’ve got to reset properly because playing Australia in Melbourne in a Bledisloe Cup is different to a normal game. We’ve got to make sure that we improve.
“Every game I’ve played against Australia has been challenging in different ways, whether that’s physical, whether it’s challenging you through fitness because it’s a wide-to-wide game and both teams are playing expansively or that it’s a challenge because it’s a mental game.”
Returning from an Achilles tendon injury, Whitelock is aware of the advances made in the team’s locking stocks and the level of competition created.
“We’ve all been around long enough to know five doesn’t get into two, but that’s good.
“It’s a good sign for us as players, as a forward pack and as a team. A lock is one of those positions where there’s some heat, which is great.
“You can look at a number of positions. If we asked everyone in the room who your starting XV is, everyone has a different opinion, but that’s a good thing; it means there’s a competitive edge in the squad, and you’ve got to perform because, if you don’t, someone is there ready to go.
I’m in a really good spot. I was cleared to play the last game but just not selected. I got through the full training week and have been in and around the team, so hopefully, the selection goes my way.
“I’ve been taking every chance to put the injury behind me and get stronger.”
Whitelock said he had no problem with his desire to play. The hunger was always there, he said.
“If the hunger changed whether I was starting or not playing, you’d be a little concerned around what your motivations are. My hunger is exactly the same as it always is – I want to get out there and play good rugby for myself and also to help the team.”
All Blacks v Wallabies: Saturday 29 July, 9.45pm NZT, Melbourne Cricket Ground. Live on Sky Sport NZ.
Munster Confirm Three New Signings
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the signing of Oli Jager from the Crusaders with the tighthead prop signing a contract until the summer of 2027.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke is rejoining Munster on a short-term contract with back three player Colm Hogan also returning on a short-term deal.
Jager will join the province in the coming weeks with his contract beginning at the start of December.
Born in London, Jager started out at Naas RFC before playing schools rugby at Newbridge College and Blackrock College. He lined out for the Ireland U18 Schools team in 2013 before moving to Canterbury in New Zealand at the age of 17.
Initially attending the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, he earned a place in the Crusaders Academy in 2014. After impressing with New Brighton RFC, he earned a place in the Canterbury squad for the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016.
Jager made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2017 and has been a key member of their squad for the past seven years, winning seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.
Eoghan Clarke spent three years in the Munster Academy before departing for Jersey Reds in March 2021. A former Ireland U20 international, Clarke won the English Championship with Jersey Reds last season before the club went into liquidation last month.
Colm Hogan, who has lined out for Ireland U20 and Munster A in the past, played his schools rugby with Glenstal Abbey. He captained Dublin University in the AIL and also had a spell with Colomiers in the PRO D2 while studying in France.
The 26-year-old played for Leinster against Chile last year and lined out with recent Munster arrival Alex Nankivell for Tasman Mako in the NPC this year.
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Key All Black announces sabbatical to play in Japan
All Blacks captain Sam Cane will take up a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract in 2024 to play a season for Suntory in Japan League One.
The 31-year-old, 95-Test loose forward will miss the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season with the Chiefs, but will return to New Zealand in June to be available for selection to the All Blacks for the 2024 Steinlager Series and Rugby Championship campaign.
Cane, who is contracted to NZR through to the end of 2025, said he was looking forward to experiencing a new playing environment with Suntory and learning more about a new culture in Japan.
“When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time following the Rugby World Cup to try something new and also a great chance to continue to grow and learn in my rugby and life journey. I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for their support to take this opportunity.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs, but I know the team is in a great place and has an incredible group of leaders in the squad and the coaching group to have a successful 2024, and I’m really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks.”
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said:
“Sam’s decision to take a sabbatical in 2024 has our full support and we wish him and his family all the best for their time in Japan. There are very few players who have given as much as he has to the jerseys he’s worn in his career to date and it’s a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said:
“Sam has given everything to this team on and off the field and deserves to take this opportunity to experience something different. He is an exceptional player and influential leader who has been an integral part of the Gallagher Chiefs for many years. We wish him and his family all the best and hope they enjoy their time in Japan after a full-on year.”
Key All Black commits to Gallagher Chiefs until 2025
Dominant loose forward Luke Jacobson has extended his contract with the Gallagher Chiefs, Waikato and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2025.
The 18-test All Black was a consistent starter for the Gallagher Chiefs this year and a key element of their outstanding DHL Super Rugby Pacific performances. He consequently went on to be named in the All Blacks squad to travel to France.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is delighted to have Jacobson sticking around for another two seasons.
“Luke is an outstanding player; he’s a workhorse, a consistent performer and considered a real warrior within our group. Luke leads by example both on and off the field. He isnt one to waste words and prefers to let his actions speak for themself. In the absence of some senior players who have moved on, I have no doubt Luke will play an integral part providing the leadership and guidance our younger players will be looking for”.
Jacobson has impressed throughout his career, playing for the New Zealand U20s team twice and captaining them in his second season to win the 2017 U20 World Championship title. This aptitude for leadership has seen him pull on the Gallagher Chiefs captain’s armband on multiple occasions.
Waikato Rugby head coach Ross Filipo is excited about Luke extending his career with Waikato. “He is a great man and a great leader who continues to make huge contributions on and off the field and always represents the region with pride.”
Speaking on his signing Jacobson said: “I’m stoked to signing on with the Waikato, Chiefs and NZR for another two years. I love representing these teams and am very proud to be able to call myself a Waikato/Chiefs man and also and All black. I’m hungry to succeed with these teams and tick off a few unticked boxes.”
The 2024 Gallagher Chiefs squad will be named later this year ahead of assembling for pre-season training.