Wyatt Crockett a gentle giant, but no pushover
Something doesn't seem quite right about Wyatt Crockett.
Standing 1.93m, the loosehead prop weighs 116kg. In the galaxy of professional rugby front rowers he isn't especially heavy – All Blacks fringe prop Ben Tameifuna makes the scales scream for mercy at 140kg – but there is little doubt Crockett is tall for a prop.
But it is not size that makes Crockett, who will make his 100th Super appearance for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes tonight, different. It is his temperament.
Ironically nick-named "Crockzilla" by his Crusaders team-mates, the leviathan frontrower rarely employs his anvil-sized fists to gain leverage against opponents.
His slate is not clean: he has earned two yellow cards this season, both for clumsy tackles but until this season the 29-year-old had never been marched.
The first card was issued for a dubious high shot against the Stormers' Siya Kolisi in April and last month he was punished for a late charge against Reds halfback and budding thespian Will Genia who crumpled so quickly it appeared he had run into a line of piano wire.
Before rugby turned professional, a time when a paucity of TV cameras and an acceptance of what happened on the field stayed there, Crockett may have been forced to mould himself into a different beast.
Yet there remains a sense the era where lightning-bolt punches and over-vigorous rucking were de rigueur may not have suited his personality. Crusaders scrum coach Dave Hewett agrees the quietly-spoken Crockett is something of a "gentle giant". A pushover, he is not, he adds.
"He certainly gets grumpy when things don't go his way but I have never seen him lose his cool," Hewett says. "He is just not that type of person."
Getting nasty on the rugby field doesn't appear to be in Crockett's brief.
"I can't remember really smacking anyone," he admits. "Maybe once or twice but I don't know if I came out on the right end of it or not sometimes. I just try to play the game tough – I'm probably not a big scrapper."
That isn't to say he hasn't been tempted.
Operating in the front row means he relies on others to ensure he can do his job. His lock and flanker need to be giving full power, his hooker has to be settled and his opponent needs to be technically good enough to contribute to ensure the scrum stays up.
"Definitely there have been times when I would have liked to [strike someone] and sometimes it has been the referee too," he laughed.
It is the advice from former coach Robbie Deans, which he received when he joined the Crusaders after ditching his job as an apprentice builder, that hasn't been forgotten. "He said just because you are really p..... off – by retaliating it is a really selfish act and you are putting the team under pressure. And that is always something I have tried to stay away from."
Recollecting his Super debut this week, against the Highlanders in 2006, Crockett said he took the field as a substitute and promptly dislocated his thumb when he tackled someone from behind.
Later that season he started in the "fog final" against the Hurricanes in Christchurch and ranks two backs, halfback Andy Ellis and fullback Leon MacDonald, as among the most tenacious of his team-mates.
Ellis is rated for his commitment and determination to win and fullback MacDonald for his physicality. "Leon would hit rucks like Richie [McCaw] does and was someone who really inspired me to get stuck into things and be physical."
He made his All Blacks debut in 2009, against Italy in Christchurch but Crockett's test career has stalled because of Tony Woodcock's (85 tests) iron-fisted grip on the No1 jersey. Crockett has just six caps.
"Wyatt's just been unlucky he hasn't had higher honours more often because of who is in front of him," Hewett shrugs. "He is one of the most valuable team members the Crusaders have ever had."