Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.
Departing Crusaders veteran Wyatt Crockett teared up during an emotional last few weeks with the Super Rugby champions.
The curtain came down on the 35-year-old’s 202-game career with the Crusaders after Saturday night’s 37-18 final triumph over the Lions.
Crockett wasn’t required in the game-day 23 for the decider, or the semifinal victory over the Hurricanes, with fit-again All Black Tim Perry preferred as the replacement loosehead prop.
Telling Crockett, who has been with the side since 2006 and is the most capped Crusader, he hadn’t made the final squad was the “hardest decision” of Scott Robertson’s coaching career.
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Perry vindicated Robertson’s decision, helping the Crusaders win a scrum penalty against the Lions almost immediately after coming on for Joe Moody, who had left for a head injury assessment.
You could forgive Crockett for being grumpy about missing out on the chance for a fairytale farewell by playing in the final.
He described his selection conversation with Robertson as “reasonably tough”.
“The great thing is he was very honest and it was about putting the team first.
“I can’t complain about that. That’s something that’s always been the way here at the Crusaders. I’m glad he stuck to his guns.”
The Crusaders were determined to get Crockett through to 200 Super Rugby games, which he brought up against the Highlanders on July 6. With Perry returning from a hamstring injury and Moody also healthy again, Crockett had to fight it out for the second loosehead spot and was surplus to requirements.
Celebrating the Crusaders’ victory parade on a wet Monday in central Christchurch, he said it had sunk in his 13-year tenure with the team was finished.
He spoke to the side before the final and kept it together while addressing the team.
Crockett struggled to control his emotions on several occasions in recent weeks, though, as it dawned on him the end was near.
“I managed to contain myself [before the final], but there’s been a few tears over the last few weeks.
“Looking at it, it’s been a family to me for the last 13 years. I’m not leaving, I’m changing roles. I’ll become a fan and I’ll be calling in from time to time.”
The Crusaders lost just three Super games during Robertson’s reign as coach over the past two years on their way to back-to-back titles.
Crockett, who played 71 tests for the All Blacks between 2009-17, said the club had never been in a better state and he was leaving on a high.
“The forward pack gets talked about a lot, which is fair, but I think our backline has been amazing the last couple of years.
“The whole team is in a really great place – great management, amazing player group, and there’s some great players coming through.”
Crockett headed for Nelson on Monday afternoon to begin his next chapter.
The Golden Bay product will finish up on a two-year contract with Tasman in the NPC.
He confirmed he was available for their opening match against Canterbury in Blenheim next Friday, likely packing down against several fringe Crusaders forwards.
Crockett and wife, Jenna, have bought a Stirling Sports store in Nelson, which will keep him busy outside rugby.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to head up there and play for my home province.
“It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to turning out on Trafalgar Park [in Nelson] and Lansdowne Park [in Blenheim] – places where I grew up playing footy.”