“I hated him.”
That’s All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara’s unusual tribute to Sam Whitelock ahead of the veteran lock’s 100th Test.
Perenara said he had grown up playing against Whitelock and was regularly the target of the Crusaders captain’s unrelenting physicality.
“It’s funny with Sam, I grew up playing a lot of my footy against him before I was in this environment and I hated him,” Perenara said.
“Every time I passed it he’d clean me out and hold me down on the ground but he wouldn’t react to it, I’d be like ‘what’s this dude up to.”
After becoming teammates, Perenara realised that was part of what made Whitelock such a special player and man.
"On the field, I thought ‘man, I hate this dude’ but then getting in the environment and getting to know his work ethic, his love for the game, his ability to just flick a switch and be in this killer mindset out on the field,” Perenara said.
"It’s hard to play against and it’s something that grind your gears when you’re playing against him but for someone to have that mindset and not care about what’s in his way each and every time he gets between those lines, it only brings everyone else up.”
Perenara added that Whitelock’s targeting of halfbacks remained the same, even in training with the All Blacks.
“He does it the same here, in training, it’s just a process for him, it’s part of his job, if he’s the defender next to the ruck, his job is to take out the nine so he takes out the nine.”
“He does his job very well,” Perenara said with a laugh.
Whitelock should play his 100th Test when the All Blacks play Australia in Sydney on Saturday.