We hope the All Blacks summer well, some more than others, as they prepare for their Webb Ellis Cup defense later this season.
Campbell Burnes is hopeful that some key All Blacks will rest up now so they can be still firing come November.
Crusaders fans won’t be happy, but their inspirational skipper, Sam Whitelock, will not be strapping on the boots for the two-time defending Super Rugby champs until mid-March.
He will miss, potentially, the first four rounds as the season kicks off a week earlier to fit everything in due to Rugby World Cup year.
We have been here before. Key All Blacks, who have endured a heavy workload in the previous season, have a later start to the campaign. The Crusaders can cope. They can call on Luke Romano and Scott Barrett to stoke the engine room.
All Blacks fans will not have a problem. After all, they do not want their men peaking in March when the World Cup hits the business end in October-November. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter knew that. So, while much of the rugby world shook its head when McCaw missed a tackle in February, the smarter rugby folk knew there was a bigger picture.
In 2017, Whitelock did miss the odd test match and Super clash, but he racked up nigh on 30 games of consistently high standard. By the final test, against Wales, however, he was running on empty, utterly spent.
In 2018, more of the same. Brodie Retallick had more than his share of injuries, so Whitelock picked up the slack with the All Blacks, not to mention assuming the captain’s armband when Kieran Read was still out. He raised the 100-test milestone. Another Super crown, another June series sweep, another Rugby Championship gong.
Sustaining all that to the end of November is no easy feat, and there were signs that Whitelock was showing fatigue, even if his standards barely dropped. It was understandable. It was no coincidence the All Blacks could not find another gear in November.
The only other All Blacks forward of 2018 who has a done a similar impersonation of the Energiser bunny is Whitelock’s Crusaders mate Codie Taylor. Never gets injured, always performs to a high level.
Robbie Deans had major misgivings about the infamous reconditioning programme for 22 All Blacks ahead of Rugby World Cup 2007. In theory, it was a sound idea, but poorly implemented. The major mistake was the rotation policy, which was being flogged all through the pool stages of the World Cup. Don’t blame the reconditioning of 2007. You cannot expect these players to be peaking several times a year. They must rest.
So my message to Sam Whitelock is simple: rest up, hit the beach, go for long walks with your wife. Do what is required to get your body and mind into a state of freshness, so that you can again dominate, as you did in 2017 when you won NZ rugby player of the year. Then re-sign with NZR and chase the euro in 2021-22. You’ll be All Blacks captain in 2020 and we need you.