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Most-capped All Black international Sam Whitelock to retire from all rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock will retire from all rugby at the end of the current European season, aged 35 and after a record 153 tests for New Zealand.

Whitelock’s decision came amid speculation of a recall to the New Zealand team. New All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson reportedly had contacted Whitelock to discuss his availability in what had been interpreted as a search for a new captain.

Whitelock played his last test for the All Blacks as a replacement in the World Cup final in Paris last year. He now plays for the French club Pau but indicated Wednesday he will quit all rugby when his commitments to the club are complete.

“I’ve been having a few conversations with my wife Hannah and the kids around what the future looks like for us. And it’s time to finish the playing chapter of rugby,” Whitelock said in a statement.

“I think if you talk to anyone who has played for a long time, that desire (to play) never leaves. It’s just that stage of life when you move on. It’s not a decision that we have come to lightly, but it’s the right thing for myself and it’s the right thing for my wife and our three kids Fred, Iris and Penelope.”

Whitelock made his test debut in 2010 and played at four World Cups, winning in 2011 and 2015. Last year he overtook Richie McCaw as New Zealand’s most-capped player.

“The thing I’m proud of is that I never really counted test matches, I always wanted to make the test matches count,” Whitelock said. “So if it was my last one, I wanted to be able to walk away and say ‘I gave it everything, I didn’t hold anything back.’ I was fully committed.”

Whitelock played Super Rugby under Robertson at the Christchurch-based Crusaders and was Robertson’s first choice as captain.

“Sam is an immortal of our incredible game,” Robertson said. “First and foremost he is a quality person, a great husband and father who has a special ability to build deep connections with people from all walks of life.

“In terms of his rugby, Sam’s impact has been immense both mentally and physically over four World Cup cycles. He is a winner who rose to any occasion as his competitive spirit drove him to the highest level of performance. Sam will stand with the greats of our game.”

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby