Hinton: Ryan Crotty's star continues to rise
OPINION: Unfashionable, is one way of describing Ryan Crotty. Under-rated is another. You could also go for unremarkable, unheralded, unsung and, in terms of the All Blacks thus far, unwanted.
But after Crotty's outstanding turn in Saturday night's 38-9 Super Rugby quarter-final dismantling of the Reds at AMI Stadium, could that all be about to change?
Could rugby's ultimate journeyman be about to take a massive leap in status? Headline act might be stretching it, given the company this guy keeps at the Crusaders, but Crotty's stock is dramatically on the rise.
In fact, if he continues to play as well as he did in his two-try powerhouse display on Saturday night, the 24-year-old midfielder might just play his way into the All Blacks - if not for the Rugby Championship, then maybe for the end-of-year tour when a new face or two will be required.
Crotty has for the last few seasons been a reliable, consistent performer for the Crusaders, one of those guys who does his job week-in, week-out with little fuss, minimal fanfare and unerring consistency.
He seldom grabs tries like he did twice on Saturday night, but is usually in the thick of a lot of what is being done well by the red-and-blacks. He's one of those players his coaches love, team-mates treasure and the pundits largely ignore because so much of what he does is not spectacular.
But Crotty had everyone talking in the aftermath of his star turn at centre against the Reds, where he's filled in since his good mate Robbie Fruean departed to get his heart problems sorted.
This is the sort of bloke Crotty is. He's growing a beard until Fruean returns to the field out of solidarity for his midfield mate. He's also doing a heck of a job as a specialist second five-eighths standing in at centre.
Here's what Dan Carter said after the game about the centre whom he set up twice for very well-taken tries: "He's a key member of this Crusaders side, he's our vice-captain, he organises a lot in the backline, and can be an unsung hero at times. But he's been working extremely hard on his game, and I thought he had a cracker."
Crotty has been perhaps unfairly tagged as one of those players for whom Super Rugby is his level. Sort of a George Whitelock of the backline.
But that's probably unfair on a young man who on Saturday night showed he has power and pace to go with a pretty impressive array of skills. There's more X-factor there than a lot of people give him credit for.
At a time when New Zealand's midfield stock is not exactly overflowing with quality contenders, Crotty could be a godsend.
The Blues' Francis Saili is the designated backup at No 12 in the All Blacks squad, but even the national selectors will tell you he's not ready yet for big-time test rugby. He's a development project, being brought along at a measured pace.
At centre Ben Smith is the probable alternate for Conrad Smith, but you could make a case that the in-form Highlanders utility is best left in the back three where he's playing so well.
If the All Black selectors are looking for another midfielder to add to their mix - and they'll need at least one when Conrad Smith sits out the year-end tour - then surely Crotty must the name they're looking closest at. He plays both positions equally profieciently.
And if Crotty can follow his heroics from Saturday with another strong display against the Chiefs in the Hamilton semifinal, then surely his case cannot be ignored.
That's Crotty's challenge now. To back up the big performances and demonstrate the sort of consistency that turns the head of All Blacks selectors who love players who step up in finals football.
On Saturday Crotty, Tom Taylor and Carter made mincemeat of an inexperienced Reds midfield, carving them to pieces in a beautifully orchestrated assault on a defensive weak link.
This weekend the Chiefs might again be vulnerable there, with some juggling of resources required after the untimely injury to Tim Nanai-Williams.
Don't be surprised if the Crusaders again aim much of their attacking thrust through those midfield channels. Crotty, in this form, is a player more than capable of exposing any weaknesses that may be there.
And if he continues apace he just might find that he's unsung, under-rated and unwanted no more.
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