Sam Whitelock still setting the standards as All Blacks prepare for Italy

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Sam Whitelock still setting the standards as All Blacks prepare for Italy
Whitelock and teammates after the match
Whitelock and teammates after the match
Reuters
New Zealand have flown under the radar at the World Cup since their opening loss to France but Brodie Retallick on Thursday gave a glimpse into a competitive team culture that makes it foolhardy to write off their chances of a fourth title.

Retallick's fellow lock Sam Whitelock has been named among the replacements for Friday's Pool A contest against Italy and will win his 149th cap if he comes off the bench, surpassing the great Richie McCaw as the most-capped All Black.

Asked what influence his long-standing partner in the All Blacks engine room has had on his own career, Retallick said it had all been about matching Whitelock's fierce drive to be the very best.

"He was the number one lock and had been established in the All Blacks before I was," Retallick told reporters.

"It was the competition to keep getting better and reach his level. He has done that for so long, which is also a massive achievement.

"Even this week, even though he was named on the bench, he was still pushing everyone around the field and trying to out-do everyone.

"Playing a lot of test matches with him has been special but the competitiveness he has throughout the training week, week-in week-out, has been the biggest benefit."

Coach Ian Foster said on Wednesday that any celebration of the twice World Cup winner's milestone would have to wait until after the Italy match.

Retallick, who made his return from a serious knee injury against France, said the All Blacks would be focusing on their own game rather than worrying too much about what the improving Italians would bring to the contest.

"You can't be distracted by what the Italians may or may not bring. We've obviously previewed them and understand a bit of their structure and how they want to play the game," he said.

"But from our point of view it's mainly the moment, from the get-go. The start is going to be massively important. We can only do our job the best we can and then trust the team mate left or right of you to do that."

The All Blacks pack was bullied by the Springboks in their final warm-up for the World Cup and in their first ever pool phase loss in the tournament opener against the hosts.

Scrum coach Greg Feek said progress had been made during training on their bye week in the southwest France following the 71-3 victory over Namibia in their second match.

"The best way to judge that for us is within our own camp," said the former prop, who was in the All Blacks side that beat Italy 101–3 at the 1999 World Cup.

"When you see boys get up from set piece, their eyes nearly popping out their heads and really looking at each other and thinking, 'that's what we need'. That's one part of it. But tomorrow's the true test of where we are at."

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