'Hands of God': Crusaders reminisce as Sam Whitelock's time in red ...

1 Jun 2023
'Hands of God': Crusaders reminisce as Sam Whitelock's time in red ...


Veteran Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock said it was an "easy decision" to sign up for a stint in France.

The Crusaders simply refer to the moment as the "hands of God".

But for those on the outside, that would be the moment departing Crusaders great Sam Whitelock made the match-sealing play in the 2019 Super Rugby semifinal against the Hurricanes in Christchurch.

It wasn't legal, as the furious Hurricanes bemoaned after the 30-26 defeat, but it was one of the many plays Whitelock will be remembered for when he departs for France at the end of the year.

There was plenty of reminiscing at Rugby Park on Thursday after the second most capped Crusader in history confirmed the lure of playing with younger brother Luke was his motivation for signing a two-year deal with French club Pau.

His unforgettable 60m try against the Reds during the 2015 season came up, as did Whitelock leading the Crusaders past the Lions in Johannesburg in the 2017 decider, but the play which broke the Hurricanes' hearts in Christchurch when they were threatening to become the first team to beat the Crusaders in a home playoff game was the one head coach Scott Robertson particularly recalled fondly.

Heck, it even prompted him to put on his best South African accent, as he imitated South African referee Jaco Peyper telling Whitelock he would have penalised him for sticking his hand through the ruck and knocking the ball from halfback TJ Perenara's hands.

Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

Sam Whitelock and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson have led a remarkable era at the Super Rugby franchise.

"Hands of god, we call that. He just came in...that was a wee moment. I remember the next week, Jaco was the ref [for the final against the Jaguares]. He goes, 'Sam, I would have penalised you for that.'

"He got away with one there, that's the Midas Touch he's got."

Perenara and the Hurricanes were irate that Australian referee Nic Berry didn't act, before the Crusaders went on to win Whitelock's final game as captain, securing the franchise's second three-peat.

The 34-year-old will play his 179th game for the Crusaders when they face the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday night, and will then have anywhere between one and three more matches left for the team he debuted for in 2010.

That makes him the only current Crusader to have played a home game at Lancaster Park before it was destroyed in the Christchurch earthquakes, ramming home the longevity of one of the greatest locks in New Zealand history.

Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock and Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles shake hands after the red and blacks edged the Hurricanes in the 2019 semifinal in Christchurch.

"When I first arrived here at Rugby Park in 2007, talking to some of the senior guys, they said 'look, it's going to go so quick, you'll blink and you will be halfway through your career', and that's exactly true," Whitelock said.

Only prop Wyatt Crockett (203 caps) has played more games for the Crusaders, a mark Whitelock admitted he had been eyeing up before a string of injuries the past couple of years put it beyond reach.

Nevertheless, Whitelock, having played under Richie McCaw's and Kieran Read's captaincy before Robertson appointed him skipper in 2017, could yet go out with a seventh title in as many years.

But it's not just the titles that Whitelock will remember fondly, it's memories such as the period when he and brothers Adam, Luke and George were members of the Crusaders at the same time.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock celebrates after beating the Lions in the 2018 final against the Lions in Christchurch.

"It was amazing being here at the Crusaders when all four of us were here, there was always that drive of being better, but then there was that family dynamic chucked in. So, if you were getting grumpy with an older brother, there was a family nickname come out and some of the players were like, 'what's going on?'"

As much as Whitelock is excited at the prospect of joining younger brother Luke in France, he’s not allowing his mind to drift too far ahead – not when there’s a Super Rugby title to win with the Crusaders and a World Cup campaign in France with the All Blacks.

That said, less than a week after 39-year-old John Afoa answered an SOS call and turned out for the Crusaders in his first Super Rugby game since 2011, the 143-test All Black didn’t rule out one day playing on New Zealand soil again.

Whitelock’s not sure how many years he has left in the tank, but as long as he’s not “one of those grumpy old guys holding on”, he will continue to put on the boots.

Martin Hunter/Getty Images

Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock pictured during the 2012 Super Rugby season.

“Never say never, someone like a John Afoa, I never thought he would be back. I've got a few greys and a little bit more hair than Johnny, but never say never, I could be back at some stage."

All Blacks coach elect Robertson backed that up by saying the door was always open for the man whose leadership he heaped with praise.

“His ability to read the room, understand what's required at that moment. He's been through so much, he's been under some great leaders, but he's got his style,” Robertson said.

“I call him the general commander, he just general commands, on and off the field. Does so much for us off the field.”

Read more
Similar news
This week's most popular news