Rugby: Wyatt Crockett, Italian expert

By Gregor Paul in Rome

Wyatt Crockett could consider himself something of an Italian expert within the All Blacks.

He is the only member of the current tour party who has been involved in each of the last three tests against Italy and his memories of each will be contrasting.

He's in line to probably start again this week, or at least be heavily involved after sitting last week out and add yet another memory to his eclectic mix.

The first time he played them was on debut in 2009 in what was one of the worst performances by the All Blacks in the last decade and one of the least inspiring tests of the professional era.

The game in Christchurch became famous for just two things - the half-time blast by then All Blacks coach Graham Henry who let rip in the changing sheds and the full-time observation by then assistant coach Steve Hansen that it would be best to flush the dunny and move on.

It wasn't exactly the sort of special night Crockett had hoped for on debut, but things actually got worse when he met the Italians again later that year in Milan.

It was just his third cap and he found himself up against the vaunted Martin Castrogiovanni.

Sensing that he had an inexperienced new boy to exploit, Castrovianni went to town on Crockett and worked him over. The youngster did continually suggest to referee Stuart Dickinson that he felt there was some illegal activity going on but was constantly ignored and the All Blacks took Crockett off after a tough 60 minutes.

A yellow card to Neemia Tialata meant that Crockett had to come back out and the last 10 minutes of the game were devoted entirely to scrums - as the Italians would win a penalty, scrum, win another penalty and scrum.

It went on like that for what seemed like an age and while the Italians didn't score, their coach Nick Mallett was fuming that they should have been awarded a penalty try.

It was an incredibly long, hard and sobering 10 minutes for young Crockett as he couldn't keep his side of the scrum steady and he was the one deemed to be repeatedly transgressing.

His reputation was in shreds as a result but less then 24 hours later former World Rugby referee's boss Paddy O'Brien had flown to New Zealand to apologise to them and Crockett personally and to tell the media that the Italian dominance in the last 10 minutes was purely down to their illegal tactics.

O'Brien said that out of eight scrums packed down, Italy could have been penalised seven times, with the actions of the tighthead prop "purely illegal".

"Up here they're crying that it should have been a penalty try," O'Brien said. "It should have been a penalty first scrum to the All Blacks."

Crockett can smile about that game now but it took a long time for him to establish his scrummaging credentials and have the reality of his ability outweigh the perception that he wasn't up to test rugby as a scrummaging force.

"Tough old night at the office," he says about that test in Milan. "The scrum didn't go well and I got penalised a bit. But I think I have learned a fair bit since then. There were a lot of scrums that night."

He came off the bench in the last encounter with the Italians in 2012 and now with more than 50 test caps, he has established himself as one of the better and more reliable loose-heads in the world game.

- NZ Herald

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