“We, the New Zealanders, want to avenge France.” Questioned by Le Figaro, former All Black Byron Kelleher (46 years old, 57 caps and 3 World Cups played) did not hold back before the World Cup final between New Zealand and Africa du Sud this Saturday evening at the Stade de France (9 p.m.). The former scrum-half of Stade Toulousain (2007-2011) and Stade Français (2011-2012) agreed to present five “major” players from the New Zealand selection: Sam Whitelock, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Will Jordan and Beauden Barrett.
Sam Whitelock (35 years old, second row; 151 caps): “He doesn’t need to talk, he acts”
“He was playing for the Crusaders at the time (before joining Pau after the World Cup). From a young age, he had great talent. He was made for the Crusaders' system of play and, little by little, he became a leader for both the club and the national team. He's an introvert, he's a very calm person who doesn't talk in vain, but on the other hand, he's a warrior. He doesn't need to speak, he acts. His actions speak louder than words. He is extremely important for the All Blacks. It's true that we saw him as a substitute at this World Cup but, as soon as he is on the pitch, he is effective and his presence is reassuring. I never played with him but rather against him. He lifts everyone up. He is a fantastic transmission leader for young players.”
Ardie Savea (30 years old, third row; 80 caps): “A monstrous warrior”
“Ardie is a wonderful person. He is humble and he respects everyone. He is someone with a very artistic style off the field. He is a monstrous warrior. His energy, his strength, his percussion… It’s impressive. He's moving forward all the time. Even if the All Blacks fall back, it is he who will decide to take the ball and put his team back in advance. Without the ball, he always makes the difference by tackling and, in the rucks, by trying to recover it.
Aaron Smith (34 years old, scrum-half; 124 caps): “He’s a leader, a real director”
“Aaron received the trust of Jamie Joseph (his former coach at the Highlanders and current Japan coach). He once told him: “Aaron, you’re not going to be an All Black. You will be a great All Black. And he didn't believe it at first. Now he has become a great rugby man. He is a leader, a real director. He is vigilant and he brings energy. He always pushes others to be better. He works constantly. On top of that, he is Maori. It's not just a sport for him, it's a real culture. We hear him a lot but he’s a scrum half (laughs). When I played, I talked a lot, I talked to the referees. We respect them but our position on the ground means that we also see certain things and we need to get the message across. Aaron is very good at communicating.”
Will Jordan (25 years old, winger; 30 caps): “He’s extraordinary”
“What’s interesting about Will Jordan is that he’s a sports lover. He played basketball, athletics and many other disciplines. He is extraordinary and very intelligent. He is good in the air, on his feet and he goes very fast. He is truly apart. At this moment, I believe, he is completely legitimate to be named best player of the year.
Beauden Barrett (32 years old, fullback; 122 caps): “He has this eye for detail that other players don’t have”
“He and his brothers (Jordie and Scott will also play in the final, Editor’s note) have rugby in their blood. When they played together, even when having fun, they always gave each other challenges. And, today, they are playing at the highest level. Beauden is capable of playing anywhere. He's a true All Black, it shows. If given space, he can be very dangerous. He knows how to kick, throw, tackle... He has impressive precision. He puts the ball where he wants. He has this eye for detail that other players don’t have.”