Rugby: Centurion Crockett eying top spot

By Kris Shannon

Wyatt Crockett will become the 10th Crusader to reach 100 Super Rugby games when they play the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images.
Wyatt Crockett will become the 10th Crusader to reach 100 Super Rugby games when they play the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images.

Wyatt Crockett is determined to mark his milestone match with a win - not for personal glory but the boost it would give the Crusaders' hopes of claiming the New Zealand conference.

Crockett will become the 10th Crusader to reach 100 Super Rugby games when they play the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday night and, in typical fashion, the prop was far more concerned about earning a victory than he was about celebrating any round numbers.

That victory would keep the Crusaders on the coat tails of the table-topping Chiefs, with the two sides set to clash next Friday in a match that could decide which team tops the conference and earns a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The lure of that encounter had not escaped Crockett amid the talk of his 100th appearance, but he was adamant neither the Chiefs nor the occasion would distract the Crusaders from the job at hand.

"We'd obviously love to finish No 1 but, first things first, we'll go about this game then we'll worry about the Chiefs," he said.

"We can only control what we can do, and that's win this week. Then we'll have a crack at the Chiefs.

"[The Hurricanes] have got only two games left in the season so they'll be pretty pumped and they'll be putting everything into it. They've had most of their squad training together the last few weeks so I'm sure they would've been focusing on this game the whole time."

While their opponents were given plenty of time to galvanise during the international break, the Crusaders' preparations were disrupted by injuries to three key players.

Dan Carter's hamstring strain suffered with the All Blacks was still hampering him, while Kieran Read's consecutive head knocks in the Ireland series ruled him out and Israel Dagg failed to recover from an ankle sprain sustained in the third test.

Crockett admitted the absence of the trio provided a challenge but backed their replacements to fill the void.

"It's a shame that we'll miss those guys but the guys coming in will be totally excited," he said. "[Tom Taylor] has played quite a bit of rugby this year at first five so, while losing DC is a big blow, he'll slot in really well.

"Sean [Maitland] coming in at fullback is a top-quality player, so he'll be fantastic. And Richie can switch to No 8, so we're pretty lucky that we've got a really good squad."

A prominent member of that squad since his debut in 2006, Crockett was surprised at the speed with which he achieved his personal milestone.

"The 100 has come around really quickly. I remember playing my first game, how excited I was, and I still get excited when I get to play today."

The 29-year-old hasn't played as much test rugby as he would have liked, being unable to usurp Tony Woodcock as the All Blacks' preferred loosehead prop, but he had more than enough achievements with the Crusaders to fill the highlight reel.

"There's definitely a few," he said. "In my first season, winning that title in the fog was pretty special with guys I'd always looked up to.

"And last year we had some pretty awesome wins on the road - that game at Twickenham was an awesome experience."

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder called Crockett's feat "remarkable", while captain Richie McCaw also paid tribute to the centurion.

"For a big man and a prop he's pretty skilful," McCaw said. "What he offers around the field is pretty significant and he's a hell of a good team man as well."

- additional reporting Christchurch Star

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