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'The Lions can wait' - Whitelock ahead of Stormers

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Thursday, April 20, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Whitelock affirmed his contract status with New Zealand Rugby on Thursday, around the same time the British & Irish Lions were named to make the tour.

But he wasn't in any rush to get swept up in the momentum surrounding the DHL New Zealand Lions 2017 series yet.

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He said he would take a look at who had been selected in a week or two as he had the more pressing concern of preparing to play the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday.

"We know that they're going to be a massive challenge and if I looked to the Lions I think I'd get into trouble this week with the Stormers so at the moment I'm just enjoying the challenges of Super Rugby and looking forward to when we get a crack against the Lions as Crusaders too," he said.

Whitelock understood that the general public and fans were getting excited about the Lions tour, and the players were too, but there were a lot of big games to be played first, including two games against South African sides, and two New Zealand derbies before they played the Lions.

The decision about extending his contract was a case of 'yes and no' when it came to the difficulty associated with considering his choice.

He did look at a couple of different options but with a young family now he and his wife were happy in New Zealand and he was happy playing with the Crusaders. Along with his involvement in the All Blacks set-up it meant the decision was made for them in most respects.

"There's still a few things we want to achieve," he said.

On that list playing, and winning, a third Rugby World Cup was among the considerations.

"World Cups are funny things. Comparing 2011 with 2015 even though a lot of the guys were the same, the tournaments were completely different again but they were exciting challenges and if I'm lucky enough to be involved in the next one I'm sure they'll be ready to embrace those challenges," he said.
Whitelock said he was still enjoying his rugby at all levels.

"It is something that excites me, and excites me every day. Even here at the Crusaders there's challenges going on that make me excited to get out of bed in the morning and try something new."

Whereas in 2015 it had been the challenge of doing something that no-one had done before in winning consecutive World Cups, and in New Zealand's case winning away from home, the prospect of extending that to another 'never done before' feat in winning a third in succession was not similar to 2015, he said.

There would be players involved who had never been to a World Cup before while for others it would be their second or third and it meant different things to different people.

From a location point of view 2011 had been all about playing in New Zealand where the public was excited about it and you were in the public eye the whole campaign. But 2015 in England, where rugby was massive but still in the shadow of football, made it a completely different environment.

Similarly, in Japan in 2019 where it would be yet another different environment.

"That's something all the teams will have to take into consideration and have a good plan around that," he said.

Captaincy of the Crusaders was another factor in keeping his interest in the game high. There was always something to work on or talk about in terms of leadership.

He said working to ensure the team was on the right track during the season had been enjoyable and he had some great help from several of his senior team-mates while younger players had made a contribution by putting their own spin on features of their game.

The energy the younger players brought helped him reflect on his early days in the side.

"When I first arrived here all I worried about was playing well and as time has gone on I have enjoyed stepping up and leading in different areas on and off the field and that's something that is something that definitely develops throughout your playing career.

"I think I was at the right stage to take on more responsibility with the leadership and captaincy of this team but the best thing about that is that we've got so many experienced guys here that have played a number of really quality games of Super Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup or even internationally so it is great to have that experience and knowledge that you can bounce ideas off and use their knowledge to help you," he said.