Captains collide: Whitelock bros battle in knockout
Sam Whitelock will hope he isn’t the one wearing the upside-down smile when he shakes his sibling’s hand on Saturday night.
Images of the Crusaders captain burying younger brother, Luke, into the turf when they were kids growing up in Manawatu popped into the mind as he recalled a prematch conversation they had ahead of the Super Rugby quarterfinal match against the Highlanders in Christchurch.
What seems certain, of course, is that the tackles unleashed at AMI Stadium will be more thunderous than those executed on the family farm as youngsters. Because the stakes for both teams, so desperate to keep their title hopes alive, are massive.
Neither of the Whitelock boys has been in a team that has won the competition, and for Sam, already one of the great All Blacks locks and a two-time World Cup gold medal winner, there is a sense of unfinished business when it comes to the Sanzaar competition. A Super Rugby crown is one of the few things he has not celebrated since turning professional with the Crusaders in 2010.
At least Sam, who at 28 is two years older than Luke, has worn the winner’s grin after the Crusaders twice finished-off the Highlanders in dramatic circumstances during their round-robin matches this season; Seta Tamanivalu scored a late try in Dunedin, and Mitch Hunt kicked a 43m drop goal in injury time in Christchurch.
In case you were wondering, the brothers didn’t seem to bother with the business of telling each other who is going to need to be peeled off the grass first when they spoke recently.
‘‘As soon as the fixture was set, Luke was ringing-up [saying] ‘right, who is getting the tickets for mum and dad, and all those things’,’’ Sam said.
‘‘Not a lot said about the game, but we are always talking. We will have a good catch-up afterwards. We are always talking throughout the year and watching each other’s games. It is probably a great thing we get to play against each other, mum and dad are still on the fence as they always will be.
‘‘Luke has been great for them (the Highlanders), really led from the front.’’
The Highlanders, who have won 10 of their last 11 games, welcome back co-captain fullback Ben Smith from concussion, along with halfback Aaron Smith.
The Crusaders have revamped their line-up following the disappointing 31-22 defeat to the Hurricanes last weekend, which ended their 14-game unbeaten streak in the competition. All Blacks front rowers Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks will join Whitelock in the pack.
The arrival of Ryan Crotty, back from injury, at second fiveeighth means David Havili goes back to fullback and Israel Dagg