The contract allows the influential lock to take a break from New Zealand rugby at the end of this year and play in Japan for Top League side Panasonic.
Whitelock has admitted that he considered walking away from the New Zealand set-up until the contract was put on the table.
“To tell you the truth, if you asked me a couple of months ago what we were doing, we were probably gone,” he said while speaking at a Crusaders’ press conference.
Whitelock went on to confirm that until the contract was agreed he had planned to stay in Japan after the World Cup and not return to his homeland.
“I thought we were just going to go to Japan and not come back to New Zealand. But full credit to New Zealand Rugby, they sat us down and we worked through some issues and we’re really happy with where we’re at now,” he added.
As well as facilitating the short-term move to Japan, which means Whitelock will miss the Super Rugby season next year, there is also a clause which enables him to call time on his career before 2023 if he feels the need to.
He confirmed that this clause was one of the key reasons why the negotiations worked out well in the end.
“So, if it’s too hard on family, or my body isn’t holding up, or I’m not enjoying it anymore. That’s when we can end it there. That’s one of the key things that flipped it around from going,” he said.
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, who is reportedly set for a move to Japan too once he steps down from his position after the World Cup, has spoke of his delight that Whitelock will stay on.
“Sammy is a very special player, an outstanding athlete, and has been a hugely respected leader in our group for some time now. Together with Brodie Retallick, he has been part of what we consider one of the world’s best locking combinations, but he is very much a world-class player in his own right. He’s a deep thinker on the game, cares passionately about the All Blacks and has done incredibly well in the handful of Tests which he has captained so far,” he said.
Hansen also noted that Whitelock’s achievements to date have been outstanding and is looking forward to seeing him continue his career as an All Black.
“Knowing that he has recommitted for four more years is huge for the All Blacks, the Crusaders and New Zealand Rugby. We’re all incredibly proud of what he has achieved so far in the jersey and look forward to the next four years,” he added.
Whitelock currently has 108 caps for the All Blacks and will be looking to add a third successive World Cup to his cabinet later this year while he is also hunting for Super Rugby glory with the Crusaders.
Check Out The Video Below to See Some of Whitelock’s Best Bits So Far
O’Connor Finally Confirmed as a Red
James O’Connor’s journey back into the Wallabies set-up has had a major boost
The move has been in the pipeline for quite some time now and with it being announced O’Connor can now officially play for the Wallabies if selected.
Having last turned out for the Aussies in 2013 before off-field issues halted his international career, O’Connor is happy to be given the chance to impress once more.
“I just want to say how grateful I am to be given this opportunity again. There’s been a lot of work put in behind the scenes and a lot of guys have shown faith in me, so all I’m focusing on right now is putting my best foot forward. I have a bigger ‘why’ now and that is what fuels me. In saying that, I’m excited to be back here. Even at 29, I’m still learning and we’re really pushing each other. It’s been an intense hit the last few weeks, but I think I’m in a lot better place physically,” he said.
O’Connor has come back with a hope of breaking into the World Cup squad and did so in 2015 as well, failing on that occasion but he is determined to prove himself this time around.
“I’m a Queenslander. I was born there. I started playing rugby there. It’s where the dream began. A big part as well is that I owe Queensland the best version of myself. I came back last time and I wasn’t in the best place mentally, but also physically I was quite broken, so I couldn’t produce and perform the rugby I wanted to for the team. I’m finally ready to return and make amends. I want to do right by the team and the fans, and I intend to deliver the very best of my energy. If I can help the team get back to the top of the sport and if we can bring success back to Queensland, that would be a dream for me. The last time I returned, I thought I was ready to repair some of the mistakes I made but also reach my rugby potential, but it was too rushed. I didn’t recognise how much pain I was still in mentally. In saying that, I wouldn’t change it because I was guided to the correct mentors,” he added.
The utility back believes that the journey he has been on over the past number of years has helped him in the long-run and has motivated others to fight their personal battles.
“I’ve been on a journey ever since to understanding my true self and how I’m meant to use my privileged position in rugby. I see now that rugby is a gift and I want my journey back to inspire possibly other young men out there who may be a little lost in the world right now. If I can make it back from adversity, then so can you,” he continued.
He closed off by saying how he thinks that inside-centre is his best position, however he will play wherever he is needed for the team.
“I think 12 is my position. I’ve been playing there the last two years and I’m most comfortable there. It’s best with the style of rugby I play and the way I have developed being overseas. Also, I’m now a bit of a nugget so I fit in there quite nicely. But of course, I will cover anywhere in the backline – whatever the team needs. It would simply just be an honour to put the shirt back on again. I would play prop if I had to,” he finished.
Rugby Australia’s director of rugby Scott Johnson is impressed by O’Connor and believes this is a great move for all parties involved.
“James has immense rugby talent. He started his career in Queensland and this is a chance for him to show his full potential for his home state. Now is the time for James’ rugby to do the talking. He’s come home for the right reasons to play rugby and to help develop our rugby programmes. He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field. He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process. We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be,” he said.
During his time overseas O’Connor turned out for London Irish, Toulon and Sale Sharks, which show how experienced he has become. His versatility and knowledge could be a huge boost for Michael Chieka and are a couple of reasons why he may very well succeed in getting into the squad that he failed to break into four years ago.
Fiji Bring in 11 New Players for Second Maori Test
Fiji have named a total of 11 new players in their squad for their second test against the Maori All Blacks this weekend
Fijian head coach John McKee has given 11 new players the opportunity to travel to New Zealand to face the Maori All Blacks this Saturday.
McKee watched his side defeat the New Zealand side 27-10 last weekend, but with there being such a massive pool of players to pick from for the World Cup he has named 11 new players in his 26-man extended squad to travel.
Fiji are heading into the Pacific Nations Cup before they take off for the Rugby World Cup in Japan and the head coach has talked about how the plan is to allow as many players as possible a chance.
“The plan has always been to give as many players as we can the opportunity across the first two games as a lead up into the Pacific Nations Cup. We have got a number of players who probably got niggling injuries from the game but also some coming from Europe with minor injuries from the back end of the season and are on a rehabilitation programme,” he said.
There are local players such as Luke Tagi, Joeli Veitayaki, Ratu Veremalua Vugakoto, Johnny Dyer, Mosese Voka, Frank Lomani and Serupepeli Vularika within the squad and McKee has confirmed places are still up for grabs.
“It’s an opportunity for these players to step up and show what they can do as everyone in the squad is vying for position in the final squad for RWC2019. The plan for this week will also see a couple of new combinations working together, learning on the mistakes we made in our first match against the Maori All Blacks as we expect the second one to also be a really tough one,” he added.
The Fijians will be looking to build on their impressive win last weekend with another good showing on Saturday and are already looking like a serious team for the World Cup.
Check out the full 26-man squad below.
Star Springbok Winger Injured in Training
One of the Springboks key men has returned to his club due to injury
The flying winger has returned to his club the Golden Lions in Johannesburg to begin his rehabilitation on a hamstring injury.
Dyantyi sustained the injury during last Friday’s training and will see a specialist later today to try and find out what treatment options he has and a possible timeframe of when he can return to action.
Despite the winger’s injury, Springboks management have confirmed they will not be bringing in a replacement as they feel as though they have enough cover for the wing in the squad.
The squad will continue their preparations for the upcoming shortened Rugby Championship this week.
While Springboks Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will announce his matchday squad for their test against the Wallabies on Wednesday and will hopefully have an update on Dyantai’s injury then.
Both players and management alike will be hoping to see the winger back soon as he provides the Boks with something special and will be vital for their World Cup campaign.
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