ABs loy­al­ist now puts fam­ily first as re­tire­ment beck­ons

The Timaru Herald - - FASHION&BEAUTY - TONY SMITH

Re­tir­ing test prop Wy­att Crock­ett says his de­sire to ‘‘never, ever want to let the All Black jer­sey go’’ was a ma­jor rea­son for him spend­ing his en­tire ca­reer in New Zealand.

The 35-year-old – who an­nounced his test re­tire­ment on Tues­day af­ter 71 caps – said al­low­ing his sons the chance to ‘‘en­joy a New Zealand child­hood’’ was an­other fac­tor be­hind his loy­alty.

Top qual­ity front row­ers can com­mand strato­spheric salaries in Europe but Crock­ett, who will end his ca­reer back where it be­gan – in Nel­son with two Mitre Cup sea­sons for the Tas­man Mako, is part of a small le­gion of All Black loy­al­ists to have re­sisted the over­seas lu­cre lure.

Asked why he had not looked off­shore, Crock­ett said: ‘‘There’s a cou­ple of rea­sons’’.

‘‘Firstly, I love liv­ing in New Zealand and play­ing rugby in New Zealand,’’ Crock­ett said at a press con­fer­ence in Christchurch.

‘‘The Cru­saders is a spe­cial group ... [it’s a team] I as­pired to play for, grow­ing up, and also the All Blacks.

‘‘To play for the All Blacks is some­thing that’s just an in­cred­i­ble thing for my­self and my fam­ily.

‘‘Once I be­came an All Black, I thought ‘I never ever want to let this go’.

‘‘So I never wanted, I sup­pose, to leave too early and have any re­grets there.’’

Crock­ett and wife Jenna also wanted their ‘‘two amaz­ing boys’’, Sonny and Em­mett, to ‘‘en­joy a New Zealand child­hood and have that op­por­tu­nity to grow up here’’.

Fam­ily fac­tors were the pull for Crock­ett to reach for the phone and call All Blacks coach Steve Hansen early in the New Year to tell him his test time was done.

‘‘I guess last year, I had thought about it and looked some op­tions.

‘‘Over the sum­mer, spend­ing time with the fam­ily and re­flect­ing on some dif­fer­ent things, it be­came re­ally clear to me that it was the right thing to do, and the tim­ing was right.’’

Crock­ett es­ti­mated that All Blacks spent ‘‘around abut 180 days a year away from our fam­i­lies’’.

‘‘It’s tough on us, and it’s in­cred­i­bly tough on our fam­i­lies as well.’’

Crock­ett has played a record 188 matches for the Cru­saders since 2006 – the high­est tally of any Su­per Rugby player – and hopes to com­plete 200 ap­pear­ances by the end of the sea­son.

He won a Rugby World Cup win­ners medal in 2015 af­ter suf­fer­ing the heartbreak of a tour­na­ment end­ing groin in­jury in the quar­ter­fi­nal, but sin­gles out his All Blacks de­but against Italy in Christchurch as his most memorable mo­ment.

‘‘For me, I was 26, it had taken me a num­ber of years of be­ing a pro­fes­sional player ... so to reach a goal you had set your­self for that first time was in­cred­i­bly spe­cial.

‘‘For my fam­ily, my par­ents and my wife, that was in­cred­i­bly spe­cial also. That’s a stand­out.’’

Crock­ett isn’t the first mod­ern era All Black to spend his en­tire ca­reer in New Zealand – Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu and Tony Wood­cock trod the same trail, but his de­vo­tion to the game re­mains a rar­ity.

New Zealand Rugby chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Tew, who was in Christchurch for Crock­ett’s press con­fer­ence, said the na­tional union were ‘‘in­cred­i­bly grate­ful for the loy­alty Crocky has shown the game here’’.

‘‘He’s be­come an in­sti­tu­tion, not just at Rugby Park in Christchurch but New Zealand rugby.

Tew said Crock­ett was ‘‘a very wel­come in­flu­ence’’ in the All Blacks team en­vi­ron­ment and ‘‘the epit­ome of what we would ask our young men to as­pire to’’.

‘‘It’s get­ting harder to keep our play­ers here be­cause dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions have dif­fer­ent as­pi­ra­tions and pa­tience lev­els.’’

Crock­ett ad­mits the 2019 Rugby World Cup was ‘‘prob­a­bly in my sights and it was some­thing I was look­ing to­wards’’.

‘‘But I sup­pose, as time goes on, things change.’’

The ‘‘pull to­wards spend­ing more time with his fam­ily’’ was too hard to ig­nore.

Crock­ett said the fact that New Zealand rugby was ‘‘served re­ally well with loose­head props’’ made his de­ci­sion a lit­tle eas­ier.

He could ‘‘not an­swer’’ a ques­tion about which team he would miss most – the Cru­saders or the All Blacks.

‘‘To be hon­est, both of them mean equally as much to me.

‘‘They are both in­cred­i­bly spe­cial teams in their own rights. For dif­fer­ent rea­sons, I love them both.’’ Crock­ett said he had ‘‘worked re­ally hard over the last cou­ple of years’’ to pre­pare for the tran­si­tion to life be­yond rugby.

‘‘I’ve got a lit­tle busi­ness I’ve been op­er­at­ing down here in Christchurch and some­thing else we’re get­ting into up in Nel­son.

‘‘Prob­a­bly now’s not the right time to talk about those in de­tail, but I feel like we’re on a good path there and are lucky to have some good peo­ple around us.’’

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Wy­att Crock­ett heartily cel­e­brates the Cru­saders Su­per Rugby tri­umph of 2017 with the squad post-match in Jo­han­nes­burg.

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