Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: New rule gives Crockett chance to show worth

Wyatt Crockett is put through his paces during the All Blacks' training run at North Harbour Stadium yesterday. Photo / Getty Images
Wyatt Crockett is put through his paces during the All Blacks' training run at North Harbour Stadium yesterday. Photo / Getty Images

Almost 50 years ago Bob Dylan penned his anthem song The times they are a-changin. Those were the days when Colin Meads was in his pomp, a formidable lock who dominated rivals as part of a feared All Black pack.

Dylan's words may not have resonated with Meads but they come into focus when you realise he was 1.92m and 102kgs in his pomp as a dynamic package of powerful athleticism.

Meads' personality was huge and his aura was probably worth a few more centimetres and kilograms as he charged around the international arenas.

Tomorrow Wyatt Williams Vogels Crockett will scrunch his 1.93m, 116kg frame into his All Black uniform for the Eden Park combat against the Wallabies. The loosehead prop's physical stats are bigger than Meads.

The times they are a-changing - in more ways than one for Crockett, who is rapt about the impending rule changes in rugby which will allow teams to have two props on the bench.

That alteration will put more squeeze on people like Ben Franks whose versatility means he is great substitution value.

That change means Crockett's allegiance to rugby in New Zealand and search for further test caps appears to have paid dividends.

For years, clubs in Europe have targeted Crockett, offering him huge money to perform his deeds offshore.

"There have been a huge number of those offers but he turned them down because he wanted to commit to New Zealand rugby and that says everything about him," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said. "Now he's waited and he's been given an opportunity."

Crockett is rated the next best loosehead prop behind Tony Woodcock and if he continues to deliver, will be in All Black touring squads.

Last year when injuries bit, Crockett played three tests but when the squeeze came on for places in the World Cup squad, he lost out to Ben Franks and John Afoa who were able to cover both sides of the front row.

"I was pretty excited when I heard that law," Crockett said. "It could be a bit of a game changer for me with the All Blacks while Woody is still number one.

"For a number of years, when it came to the bench picks it always seemed the second loosehead prop lost out."

The 29-year-old has battled on though, determined to get more time in black.

"I love what I do here in New Zealand. Playing for the Crusaders has been a massive part of my life and I absolutely love it to bits and this team [All Blacks] has always been something which has been extremely special since I was a kid.

"I can't walk away from that, not while I have a chance at it. It is special to me and I just want to make sure I give it the best I have got for as long as I can."

Crockett has a reputation for forgetfulness and admits at one stage he had to have lots of instruction on the family whiteboard and notes on the fridge to help. A smartphone has helped his memory.

However good buddy Andy Ellis reckons the prop still runs out of petrol in his car and he's had to go and bail him out.

"He is just so relaxed, laidback and has a great sense of humour and a she'll be right attitude.

"His wife is very organised and without her, he would have paid a lot of Crusaders team fines in his career."

Growing up in Nelson, Crockett lost his spleen playing for the 1st XV in his last year when he was also suffering from glandular fever.

After a lengthy recovery, he transferred to Otago Boys' High to complete that lost year. He underwent two and a half years of a building apprenticeship before he and professional rugby entwined.

"He is a top bloke Crocky, he is the ultimate team man, he will do anything for you, he can laugh at himself and always has the team ethos at heart," said Blackadder. "He gets very emotional when he does not play well or we lose, he plays from the heart.

"He has worked hard on the scrummaging side of things. I am pleased he has this chance because he was told a few years ago that he was number two but because of the rules he missed out on the bench."

Both Dave Hewett and Mike Cron have worked more with Crockett this season and he was very diligent and worked hard on his game, his fitness and his skills.

He was very committed and as a tall man, had to take special care of his technique and balance for his loosehead role. "I think Crocky has taken the scrummaging part of his game to another level. He has great skills, he makes a huge amount of tackles, is a great lineout lifter, hits rucks and will only get better with more games," said Blackadder.

"He is athletic, has great ball skills, and is something outstanding as a bloke and rugby player. The new rules will suit him."

In the downtime that rugby squads have, Crockett is part of the inevitable card schools.

He proclaims he is in the top three in the Crusaders squad but balks a little when confronted about naming the others.

Richie McCaw is apparently sharp and Kieran Read gets well involved but Crockett fudges many details.

"I have rated myself a little higher than reality probably. I am not too bad at 500 or euchre - then there is gin rummy and a few others. Richie and Reado are very competitive. I would have to be in the top three when it averages out."

- NZ Herald

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