New Zealand captain Sam Whitelock has hailed Wales counterpart Alun Wyn Jones as an “awesome bloke” as he looked forward to more “friendly banter” on the eve of the pair’s latest meeting in an international rugby match.
The two vastly experienced locks will lead their teams out in Cardiff on Saturday for the opening match of the All Blacks’ tour of Europe.
Jones, by winning his 149th cap for Wales, will surpass retired New Zealand great Richie McCaw’s world record of most Test appearances for a single country.
Jones has also played 12 Tests for the British & Irish Lions and faced Whitelock during the combined side’s drawn 2017 series in New Zealand.
“Awesome man, awesome bloke, so just really pumped for him to get to 149 [Wales caps],” Whitelock said on Friday. “He’s a real competitor and it’s great to be up there playing against him.”
Jones is also known for the skilful way he ‘manages’ referees and occasionally gets under the skin of an opponent with a carefully chosen comment.
“He normally brings a bit of chat during the game but then afterwards it’s always good to share a cold beer with him, too,” added Whitelock, himself a veteran of 127 Tests.
“I won’t give you word by word, I’ll probably get in trouble. It’s one of those things, you are always out there to do your best but you’ve got to enjoy it.
“I think that’s what Alun Wyn always does – he enjoys it. He enjoys having a bit of banter with the referee and the other captain as well.
“Sometimes it takes the edge off it, and actually allows players to play better and sometimes allows him to get in the ref’s good books. I’m sure there’ll be a bit of that friendly banter going on out there tomorrow.”
But a Wales international Whitelock knows even better than Jones is Johnny McNicholl, with the pair having played together in their native New Zealand before the utility back headed north to qualify for his adopted country on residency grounds.
“I played with Johnny at Canterbury and the Crusaders,” said Whitelock. “Johnny and [New Zealand hooker] Codie Taylor are very good friends. It’s pretty awesome when you get out there to play for your country and Johnny gets to play for Wales against his country of birth.”
Saturday’s match is set to be the first time Wales have played before a capacity 75,000 crowd at the Principality Stadium since going down 27-23 in the Six Nations match against France in February last year.
“It’s one of the most special stadiums to play at, especially during the anthems and the Welsh all can sing. It’s pretty cool when you hear 70,000 odd Welsh people singing at the top of their lungs,” said Whitelock.
The 33-year-old added: “There is that strong connection between Wales and New Zealand – both smaller countries in population size but both are just so passionate about rugby.”
Wales have not beaten New Zealand since 1953 and they will be without several first-choice players due to injury and the match taking place outside the designated autumn Test window.
Whitelock, however, insisted: “I think if you give any Welshman a Welsh jersey, they are going to go out there and do everything they can to play well.”
© Agence France-Presse