WELLINGTON – All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock is itching to get back into action after being sidelined by a concussion and while he expects to be "blowing hard" at times on Saturday he says he has no concerns about being underdone for the first test against France. Whitelock, who is making his 97th test appearance and is standing in for regular captain Kieran Read, has not played since May 12 due to concussion symptoms.
"I've had a couple of weeks where I haven't played," Whitelock told reporters at Eden Park on Friday. "It's frustrating, I always want to be out there if I'm 100 percent fit or even if I'm not. At times I'm going to be blowing hard but I think that's normal no matter where you are in a test match."
The All Blacks' preparations for the series have been hit hard by injuries, with centre Ryan Crotty also suffering concussion and flanker Sam Cane battling a groin strain, meaning neither have played much in the last month. Several other senior All Blacks, like Read, were ruled out of the series completely due to injury, which could make it even more difficult for the notoriously slow-starters to gel their combinations and get into a rhythm. Starting props Joe Moody and Owen Franks, both of whom returned late to Super Rugby due to surgery last year, are missing after being suspended for foul play. However, Whitelock said two All Blacks training camps held in the last month should help reduce any rust they might bring into their first test.
"Once we've got in it's been great and obviously those camps have allowed this week to be a bit smoother than it's been in the past," he said.
"I'm really excited about getting out there, the confidence is where it needs to be."
Loose forward Vaea Fifita, who will start on the bench against France, will remain with the team despite his son undergoing an operation after being injured at Auckland airport on Thursday. Fifita, 25, said on Friday his son Paula, who is almost two, was recovering at an Auckland hospital after he was injured on a baggage belt at the city's airport.
"He had an operation on his arm and is doing okay," Fifita said in a statement on the All Blacks' Twitter account.