ABs loyalist now puts family first as retirement beckons
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.’’
Wyatt Crockett heartily celebrates the Crusaders Super Rugby triumph of 2017 with the squad post-match in Johannesburg.