Tuesday 24 October 2017

Crotty and the try that still haunts Schmidt

Memory of All Blacks' last-gasp escape a driving force for Ireland

New Zealand's Ryan Crotty evades Conor Murray to score his last-gasp try at the Aviva Stadium in 2013
New Zealand's Ryan Crotty evades Conor Murray to score his last-gasp try at the Aviva Stadium in 2013
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

RYAN CROTTY could walk down Grafton Street today and nobody would bat an eyelid. Say his name in certain company, however, and the reaction will be a combination of anguish and regret.

Sunday, November 24 2013 will forever be remembered as the day Ireland let the All Blacks off the hook in these parts, but in a little corner of the New Zealand city of Nelson that moment at the Aviva Stadium will be recalled for different reasons.

It was the first and, as yet, only try of the Crusaders centre's international career, a moment to cherish for any native of the rugby-mad nation. On a national level, it was the score that saved their 100pc season.

Crotty himself remembers the deathly silence that descended on Lansdowne Road and the fatigue he felt after evading Conor Murray's despairing lunge and eking out the last few metres to give Aaron Cruden the chance to win the game.

He plays down his role in the way you'd expect of a professional athlete who works in an environment that holds humility high on its list of values. He says he just took a brilliant offload and touched it down.

HARSHLY

A review of the almost two minutes that followed Jack McGrath being harshly penalised for going off his feet and Crotty touching down, however, shows his involvement extends to one important catch from a Ma'a Nonu off-load and a couple of clearouts that kept the game alive.

As a team, New Zealand went through 24 passes from 13 pairs of hands, just one hitting the deck when Aaron Smith's effort was rescued by Nonu.

They kept it alive through 12 breakdowns against an Irish team who did everything they could to stop them, but were too early in their development and too tired to make the effort count.

"Aw, I was just absolutely knackered to be honest. I was hiding out on the wing because I was tired and having a breather," Crotty recalls.

"I remember the few moments before that, just realising where the space was for us to exploit outside of Dane Cole so. We had a wee bit of a moment that we'll remember.

"It was one heck of an off-load, I didn't have a whole lot to do but go over the line for 5m and touch down. I got the credit for it, but it was a heck of a team try.

"It's a personal highlight, an important try and something I'm really proud of even if I have to apologise to everyone for scoring it!"

Although he jokingly banned talk of that game at a recent press conference, Joe Schmidt regularly references that fateful day even as his team do their best to eradicate the memory through their run of 12 wins in the 13 Test matches since.

The following month, McGrath cried through a review session that highlighted seven system errors in the Irish defence after his penalty concession.

The coach went through it forensically and painfully and could still quote every phase through gritted teeth if asked to do so now.

It showed Ireland where the benchmark is when it comes to winning these games of fine margins.

All of the words that Schmidt uses - accuracy, intensity and ball focus - were in play as the world's best team won a game that had looked beyond them.

"Definitely, the way we train and the way we prepare our game and play is similar," Crotty says of the standards that are set by Steve Hansen and the senior players like Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.

"Nothing really gets rushed in, so the standards of training and things like that are high and we hold ourselves to those standards. I guess that's what happened when it came down to it."

Ireland have followed the template shown against New Zealand of building a lead through the first hour, but they are trying to learn not to let teams back into it.

It hasn't always worked. In their only defeat since the All Blacks' game, they allowed England back in front and couldn't find a way through.

France, twice, and Australia have both come knocking on the door in the final phase of a one-score game.

On Sunday, after beating England, Schmidt spoke of his satisfaction, saying: "For once, I didn't have my heart in my mouth."

Conor Murray was enthusiastic yesterday when looking back on the game: "It was nice to have that little bit of cushion, I think it was great the way we held England out at the end".

Since the win in Dublin, the All Blacks have not kept their unbeaten record but they retain the same belief; best exemplified when they produced a similar moment of brilliant desperation to beat Australia 29-28 last summer.

Not knowing when you're beaten is a hallmark of great teams and, while Ireland have yet to be put in a similar position in the 18 months since the All Blacks' game, they have learned to win.

And that will stand to them if the best team in the world are to be used as an example.

"I just remember believing that we were going to win," Crotty says of that day in Dublin.

"That might sound arrogant or silly, but I remember with around 35 minutes to go and we had our work cut out for us, but we never doubted it.

BRAVE

"Even when Johnny Sexton was taking that shot at goal, which would have taken it to eight points, I remember thinking that even if he gets it I still didn't think that they would win even though looking back now I think 'you were brave there, Ryan'.

"It's the belief that the team had. We have something, I don't know why, it's the man next to you and the calibre of player that we had."

It's a World Cup year, but over in New Zealand the world's show-piece seems a long way away.

The Cricket World Cup is the only show in town while the All Blacks are currently with their Super Rugby sides. Last weekend, Crotty faced off against the returned Sonny Bill Williams to demonstrate just how tough keeping that black jersey is. He faces a tough battle to play a part next September.

It's clearly on the management's mind, given Steve Hansen's presence in Dublin last Sunday to check out a potential quarter-final opponent in the flesh.

And, if the two sides' paths do cross, Ireland will hope they'll have learnt their lesson the hard way and that they can banish Crotty from their dreams.

Irish Independent

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