Crotty salutes injured Fruean on and off field
Ryan Crotty saluted Dan Carter for instigating his two tries on Saturday night and then pointed to his bearded face to acknowledge his missing mate Robbie Fruean.
The performance of Carter, who scored 20 points and unloaded the final passes to Crotty for his tries at AMI Stadium, resulted in the latter acknowledging his first five-eighth's form had a critical effect on his side during the 38-9 rout over the Reds in the qualifying final.
"He's world-class. He's coming into some really nice form which is flowing right through the backline," Crotty said.
Crotty has made the transfer from second-five to centre with ease since coach Todd Blackadder relegated Fruean to the bench and brought Tom Taylor into the midfield for the May 24 match against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Although he has thrived since filling Fruean's No 13 jersey Crotty intimated he takes little pleasure from grabbing the accolades at his mate's expense.
Last month it was revealed Fruean's season was finished because he required surgery to replace a heart valve - and that the condition had been affecting his form.
Since his recent operation Fruean has been convalescing at home and that's where Crotty's beard comes in to the story. As a show of allegiance he is joining Fruean in sprouting the facial hair.
"He (Fruean) said he's going to go 'Caveman' until he gets back out there," Crotty stated. " I'm pretty tight with old Rob. I don't mind having this beard anyway so I will try to back him up as best as I can."
Crotty and Fruean have been team-mates since 2010 and although Sonny Bill Williams owned the No 12 jersey in 2011, the partnership re-formed when he left the following season.
It is not only in matches that Crotty misses his mate.
"He's has got that infectious personality that just makes you smile. He's always cracking jokes, always smiling. It's tough not having him around - I can't wait until we have him back."
Realising the Reds' re-jigged midfield would be vulnerable following the injuries to Anthony Faingaa and Mike Harris the Crusaders repeatedly exploited the new combination of Jono Lance and Ben Tapuai.
Crotty's first try followed a short-ball off Carter from a scrum and the second was scored on the right flank as the playmaker again put him a hole.
Winning this weekend's semi-final, Crotty added, may reflect their preparation this week. Short-cuts would be unacceptable.
"You try to keep the routines the same. You have to sweat off the field as much as you do on there.
"Play-offs are tight and we have to relish being under that pressure whereas, possibly in the past, we have come off second best. We have to give ourselves the best chance to play well."