Rugby: Ryan Crotty central to quality All Blacks performance

By Campbell Burnes

All Blacks 2nd-five Ryan Crotty on his way to scoring against Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks 2nd-five Ryan Crotty on his way to scoring against Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Ryan Crotty might start getting the widespread respect he deserves after delivering another quality, low-error display in Bledisloe I.

The All Blacks second five has lived under the shadow of Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams and, to a lesser extent, Charlie Ngatai, but emerged to show his class, which Crusaders and Canterbury rugby people have never doubted, in his 40 minutes.

Not only did Crotty score the All Blacks' opening try - the second of his 19-test career, but he made the correct decisions defensively and when to pass on attack. One of his slick short passes nearly resulted in a try to wing Waisake Naholo. It was a shame he did not run out for the second spell as Steve Hansen rang the changes. The All Blacks did not quite get it together offensively after they were split, and maybe that was no coincidence.

But even more pleasing was the fluency of Crotty's midfield combination with Malakai Fekitoa. The latter, in particular, has been under some pressure to deliver a more authoritative performance, and former All Blacks coach John Hart, who had a pair of midfielders in tune with each other - Walter Little and Frank Bunce - at his disposal, openly questioned how this All Blacks pairing would go after concerns remained from the Wales series.

The first point to be made is that Fekitoa is a No 13, not a No 12, though he was forced in one for the second stanza. His form has not been poor in 2016, but not at the consistently high level of 2014-15. In Sydney, he invariably made the right decisions on attack and was defensively sound. If he had known Bernard Foley was on him, he would have scored a try himself in the second half.

Fekitoa was in his 16th test and this was a crucial outing to show that he can make Conrad Smith's jersey his own. He went a long way to achieving that. His Auckland teammate George Moala is on ice so there is little reason to think Fekitoa will not sew the position up for the rest of the Rugby Championship.

Their midfield opponents Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani collectively tallied 136 caps to 33, but you wouldn't have known it. Giteau was one of several backs from both sides who retired hurt in a brutal war of attrition, while Kuridrani was barely sighted in any sort of space.

The other pre-match concern for the All Blacks was at hooker, where they did not really want to see Dane Coles have much playing time off the bench after the late injury to Nathan Harris. Murphy's Law, Codie Taylor was concussed within the opening three minutes, so Coles had to go nearly the full distance.

Two weeks after holding the Super Rugby trophy aloft in agony with his ailing ribs, Coles shirked nothing in the collisions and the All Blacks' set-piece was dominant. He also added a try and was well up on Wallaby skipper Stephen Moore, who lasted 62 minutes.

- NZ Herald

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