Wyatt Crockett has been given a vote of confidence as he looks set to get his rollercoaster All Blacks career under way again on Saturday night with veteran prop Tony Woodcock forced out of the Bledisloe Cup rematch with Australia through injury.
Woodcock damaged rib cartilages in the 27-19 win in Sydney and took no physical part in training when the All Blacks had a rigorous practice session in Auckland yesterday, though he kept a close eye on the scrum work.
The coaches and medical staff have made an early decision on Woodcock. They certainly didn't want to risk him against the Wallabies and will do everything to get him right for the intense examination the Pumas pack will bring when the All Blacks host Argentina in Wellington on September 8.
That throws Crockett into the spotlight for Eden Park with coach Steve Hansen already indicating the Canterbury and Crusaders player was the next man in the propping order.
Crockett had a busy day yesterday as the All Blacks did plenty of scrum work. Long after most of the squad had packed up, the front rowers, including the versatile Ben Franks, were still going at each other, sifting through their options.
It's a big jump down from 31-year-old Woodcock with his 87 tests including 22 against the Wallabies that have also netted him a startling five tries.
The 29-year-old Crockett has just six tests to his name and has endured a chequered career since debuting in a 2009 season that included a tough night against the Italians in Milan where he incurred the wrath of Aussie referee Stuart Dickinson in a scrum shambles.
Crockett was dropped the following year but earned a recall last season. He started in three tests, including two Tri-Nations encounters, and looked far more comfortable. He suffered the cruelty of missing a World Cup berth but has battled back again and certainly has the faith of those around him.
Rookie All Blacks lock Luke Romano has packed behind the 116-kilogram Crockett in plenty of Canterbury and Crusaders scrums and has no doubts he can handle this assignment against a Wallabies pack that will be out to exploit Woodcock's absence.
“Obviously Woody is a very experienced member of the forward pack and what he brings with his experience and his scrummage nous is going to be sorely lost. But the man replacing him has been playing some good footy the last couple of years and I'm sure Crocky will step up,” Romano said of Crockett's opportunity.
“He has shown what he can do in Super Rugby. He's a great ball-playing prop and he scrummages really well. He'll just look to do the simple things well if he gets the chance. It's a very big chance.”
Doing the simple things well is also the challenge for Romano and the rest of the All Blacks after their rusty effort in Sydney.
Romano, having played the Wallabies on the back of his encouraging debut against Ireland two months earlier, acknowledged the lift in standards that came with the Rugby Championship.
He played 53 minutes in Sydney before fellow rookie Brodie Retallick took over in the second row alongside Sam Whitelock.
“I guess it was just how accurate you have to be,” he said of the change in pace.
“You do any small thing wrong and it gets amplified in the bigger situations.”
He expected this Saturday to be much, much bigger. The All Blacks have the chance to seal the Bledisloe Cup while the Wallabies will bring new levels of desperation.
“The physicality was certainly right up there with a top Super game. But I think both sides commented that it wasn't that physical so I expect that to take another step up this week.”
Romano accepted Hansen's criticism of the All Blacks' lineout work. While they had claimed their own throws, they had allowed the Wallabies to disrupt their ball delivery off the top.
“It's an area us locks and lineout jumpers are looking to improve this week. That's just us being a bit smarter.”
The All Blacks have the day off today. Both camps name their teams tomorrow, with the Australians arriving in Auckland late tomorrow night.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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