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Dublin: 6 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018
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'I was thinking that even if Sexton put the kick over, we could still have won it'

All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty recalls breaking Irish hearts in 2013.

This post is part of The42′s Facing History series, supported by Cadbury Boost. To read more, click here.

96 SECONDS. 63 metres. 21 passes. 12 phases. 22 rucking contributions. Three offloads.

And there was Ryan Crotty. Waiting to break Irish hearts.

Ryan Crotty crosses the line to score the last try of the game Ryan Crotty crosses to score against Ireland in 2013. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That 2013 try has become an infamous part of Irish rugby history but in just over four weeks, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Joe Schmidt’s side get a chance to eradicate the cruel memory on behalf of the nation.

While the All Blacks have moved on – developing and improving – since that score in Dublin, it bore some of the hallmarks of why they remain so successful.

Accurate handling under pressure, unwavering belief that their skillset could bring success, and every single player on the pitch contributing towards the collective achievement.

Crotty was the man in the right place at the right time, accepting Dane Coles’ offload to cross in the left corner and give Aaron Cruden an opportunity to win the game from the tee.

Earning his fifth All Blacks cap as a replacement that day, the try remains a career highlight for Crotty.

“I guess it was a wee bit ironic,” said Crotty of the 2013 score when we caught up before the All Blacks flew out of Auckland Airport to Argentina for this month’s 36-17 win over the Pumas.

Ironic because Crotty, as his name would suggest, has Irish ancestry.

“I have roots in Waterford,” said the Crusaders centre. “I remember for the U19s World Cup, both my grandparents and my father came over for the tournament, which was in Belfast, and they took a trip to Waterford for a couple of days.”

Ryan Crotty celebrates a try Crotty has become a key player for the All Blacks. Source: Photosport/Pablo Gasparini/INPHO

The Crotty clan delved into their family history in the Déise, buying a stash of Waterford Crystal and drinking a few pints of Guinness at Crotty’s Inn, located in the village of Lemybrien.

Despite the Irish roots, Crotty insists there were no mixed feelings for his family when he dotted down in 2013.

“All of my family are pretty avid All Blacks supporters, so it was fine with them. I had a few Crottys that got in touch through Facebook and things like that when I was in Ireland, so they weren’t too happy about it!”

Scoring a try of that profile and importance might have launched some players’ careers into superstardom, but Crotty’s has been more of a slow burner.

A native of Nelson, Crotty grew up in the Christchurch suburb of New Brighton. His mother, Robyn, played water polo for New Zealand and works as a personal trainer, while his father, Steve, played rugby for Nelson Bays and the New Brighton club.

Crotty came through Shirley Boys’ High School, before impressing for the Canterbury U18 side and forcing his way into the province’s senior set-up. A Super Rugby debut with the Crusaders came in 2009.

He has 23 Test caps at the age of 28, but missed out on selection for the 2015 World Cup squad and is only now convincing some critics that he deserves to be an All Black starter.

Hearing the differing opinions on Crotty in New Zealand was fascinating. Many value his world-class handling, intelligent running lines and selfless play. Others bemoan his lack of game-breaking ‘x-factor.’

Steve Hansen’s opinion is positive, and Crotty is a key member of the squad. With five starts and four tries in the recent Rugby Championship, Crotty has nailed down his starting berth and is well positioned to comment on the state of the All Blacks.

Ryan Crotty and Beauden Barrett Crotty is enjoying playing alongside the in-form Barrett. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Their skills and explosive attack attract most attention, but the mental capability of this All Blacks unit is key. 2013 in Dublin was one of the strongest examples of how the Kiwis have changed since the 2007 World Cup quarter-final collapse against France.

“There’s a lot of time spent on the mental side of the game with the All Blacks,” says Crotty, “we have a lot of belief in the team and the player or man next to you.”

Mental skills specialist Gilbert Enoka has been working with the national side on this aspect of the game since 2000, while the All Blacks have also hired in help from outside in order to build their ability to perform under pressure.

The result of that investment in the mental side of the game, Crotty believes, is the All Blacks’ ability to deliver when the heat is truly on – as in 2013. When Johnny Sexton lined up a penalty that could have put Ireland 25-17 ahead with six minutes left, Crotty still believed.

I remember in that game, being out there and thinking that even if Sexton had put that kick over, that we could still have won it,” said the centre.

“In hindsight, there was no chance of that happening, so I guess that’s just the belief in the jersey and the players around you.”

Crotty does admit that New Zealand were “pretty lucky that day” as they came through an incredibly dramatic test, but it was another building block on their way to the 2015 World Cup success.

Ahead of next month’s meeting with Ireland in Chicago, and the second clash in Dublin two weekends later, Crotty points out that the All Blacks’ squad “has changed a bit.”

No Richie McCaw, no Keven Mealamu, no Ma’a Nonu. Dan Carter and Conrad Smith have departed from Test rugby too, but the All Blacks show no signs of regression.

Ryan Crotty runs in a try Crotty scored four tries in the Rugby Championship. Source: Photosport/Paul Seiser/INPHO

“We’re always working on building, developing and improving our game,” said Crotty. “If you look at this year’s results, our ability to score points has been pleasing. On Saturdays, we want to go out there and attack so it’s good to be doing that.”

38 tries and 262 points in total across six bonus-point wins from six in the Rugby Championship underlines the challenge facing Ireland.

The end of the Carter era was seen as a major blow to the All Blacks after last year’s World Cup, but Beauden Barrett has moved his game into a new stratosphere in 2016.

The Hurricanes out-half may be a weak kicker off the tee, but his playmaking has been sensational in the black jersey.

“He’s a marked man at the moment and if that creates a little bit of space outside him, that’s awesome for us. He’s a really good director, a really calm player,” said Crotty, before commenting that Cruden and Lima Sopoaga aren’t bad to play off either.

Crotty’s midfield partnership with Malakai Fekitoa also started the Championship well, as the All Blacks looked to develop in that area post-Nonu and Smith.

We’ve played a handful of Tests together and we’re working nicely together, having some fun,” said Crotty of playing alongside Fekitoa.

“In saying that, we’ve got a pretty tight group of midfielders that all help each other along off the paddock. We’re working hard at that and it’s good to see it paying dividends.”

Indeed, Anton Lienart-Brown’s impressive introduction to Test rugby has provided the All Blacks with another potential superstar.

Crotty and his fellow midfielders have started a “green tea group,” gathering each week to discuss tactical and technical issues relating to their roles for the All Blacks. Each unit of the squad does something similar. Competitive, but collaborative.

Tommy Bowe and Paul O'Connell dejected after Ryan Crotty scored a late try Crotty caused heartbreak in 2013. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Hansen’s men have one more Test before facing Ireland, with the third Bledisloe Cup fixture against Australia to come on 22 October in Auckland, but the dual meetings with Joe Schmidt’s men are very much in view after the rampant Rugby Championship success.

The All Blacks might have been a little stunned by Ireland’s incredible first-half performance in Dublin in 2013, but they are well aware of what’s coming in Chicago this time around.

Ireland are up there as one of the best international sides in rugby, without a doubt,” says Crotty.

“Seeing how well they went over in South Africa during the June series, they were unlucky in two of those games and they looked really sharp in that first game.

“They’re certainly always on the radar, and they’re one of the best in the world.”

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Murray Kinsella

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