Resurgent Crotty denies Bristol approach as he surveys crowded All Blacks midfield

Ryan Crotty, pictured celebrating with a fan after the All Blacks played the Springboks in Christchurch last year, ...

Ryan Crotty, pictured celebrating with a fan after the All Blacks played the Springboks in Christchurch last year, started 11 tests last year.

What would you do if you were in Ryan Crotty's boots?

Midfielder Crotty reckons he has no idea whether ex-Blues coach Pat Lam has his name circled in his notebook, expressing surprise when informed he and another All Blacks back in TJ Perenara were reported as potential targets for English premiership club Bristol.

Such stories, true or otherwise, are all part of the deal when a professional player comes off contract and Crotty, 28, said this one had snuck under his radar.

No, he hadn't been contacted by Bristol or their next coach Lam, who recently signed All Blacks loose forward/lock Steven Luatua. Yes, Crotty added, he will be keeping his options open.

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"I know it sounds cliche and I am not giving you much, but if you concentrate on playing good footy all that kind of stuff takes care of itself," Crotty said. "That is honestly what my focus is on and when that time comes I will make what decision is best for me and my future."

Given Crotty, 28, is in the final year of his deal with New Zealand Rugby he could be bracing himself for more questions about offshore clubs over the coming months.

Here's the guts of the Crotty story: since his test debut against Australia in 2013, he has played 26 tests.

That includes 15 starts, of which 11 were acquired last year as the All Blacks selectors, because they had lost Ma'a Nonu to French club Toulon and Sonny Bill Williams was rehabbing a serious Achilles tendon injury, turned to the Crusaders man to be the glue in their midfield.

Now Crotty's contract is up for renewal, he has to sit down, set his emotions to one side and look at the facts.
Does he re-commit to NZ Rugby through to the World Cup in Japan in 2019, or he is better to look at the clubs in Japan or Europe and make them pay a higher price for his services?

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In addition to Williams, who is contracted to NZ Rugby through to 2019, Anton Lienert-Brown, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Seta Tamanivalu, Rieko Ioane and Rene Ranger will also be fighting for a midfield berth this year.

Crotty has many things in his favour. While he isn't a massive chunk of muscle and bone, he's mentally tough, works as diligently off the ball as he does on it and possesses valuable leadership skills.

He was asked to be a leader of the midfielders when the All Blacks toured the northern hemisphere last year, and has accepted the job of being a dual vice-captain, along with Matt Todd, of the Crusaders.

"I guess the reason I enjoyed it (last season) was because I kept my head down and worked hard. If I do the same (this year), hopefully those performances and accolades will come my way," Crotty acknowledged as he reflected on a year when he established himself at second five-eighth alongside rookie test centre Lienert-Brown.

The return of Williams, expected to debut for his new Blues club in April, will be of immense interest to the All Blacks' selectors ahead of the series against the British and Irish Lions this winter.

A fast start to the season, which begins with the trial match against the Hurricanes in Waverley on Friday night, would be ideal for Crotty who can cover both No 12 and No 13 in the backline.

NZ Rugby, having recently signed Israel Dagg and Ben Smith after losing the fight to retain Aaron Cruden and Luatua, have a host of All Blacks coming off contract this year.

Kieran Read is expected to soon confirm he has agreed terms through to 2019, with Sam Whitelock and Sam Cane also prime targets. Fekitoa, Ioane, Lienert-Brown and Tamanivalu's deals are also up for renewal.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Ere Enari, Whetu Douglas, Matt Todd, Pete Samu, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Tim Perry. Reserves: Joe Moody, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaatoa, Codie Taylor, Luke Romano, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Jed Brown, Jordan Taufua, Bryn Hall, Mitchell Drummond, Mitch Hunt, David Havili, Sione Fifita, Sean Wainui, Manase Mataele, Marty McKenzie.

 - Stuff

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