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Young Crusader Dominic Gardiner following in the footsteps of greatness

By Adam Julian
Dominic Gardiner of the Crusaders looks on during the round three Super Rugby Pacific match between the Moana Pasifika and the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium on March 04, 2022 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Dominic Gardiner was a postcard student at St Bede’s College in Christchurch. The 2019 head prefect was in the First XI cricket and First XV rugby teams representing the New Zealand Schools in the later code.

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His father Angus Gardiner has been General Manager of the Crusaders since 2016. He oversees recruitment, contracting, and staff culture. There is no one better if seven titles are the true measure of success.

Angus himself was a flanker for the Crusaders. He helped them win their first two Super Rugby titles in 1998 and 1999.

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With such pedigree it’s little surprise Dominic pursued a professional rugby career.  He’s already been part of two Super Rugby triumphs. But what did the 22-year-old learn about life when in such an important, and seemingly preordained, leadership role at school?

“I think I underestimated the impact you can have on people,” Gardiner told RugbyPass.

“A conversation with a junior could have a lasting impact. As head boy you got to interact with other leaders from around the country and were given opportunities others don’t get. That builds confidence and knowledge.

“At St Bede’s they really stressed good values. Character traits like loyalty, discipline, and hard work mattered. Some teachers had been there for years. Every successful place has those people. I loved First XV games at home where boys would let the chainsaw rip and get behind us. St Bede’s builds a passion and character which doesn’t leave you.”

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And they’re darn good at producing loose forwards. In the past two decades Elliot Dixon (All Blacks), Josh Navidi (Wales), Hiroki Yamamoto, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Michael Letich, Sione Lavemai (Japan), and Alejandro Martin Nieto Serra (Uruguay) have been capped internationals. Super Rugby regulars James Lentjes and Charlie Gamble are old boys too.

Gardiner led the 2019 First XV under coaches Dwayne Prendergast and Daniel Winchester to a 16-3 record. The school magazine noted Gardiner had “an elite edge in his game.”

“Dwayne and Dan were big on expressing yourself. They removed that fear of failure by encouraging you to back yourself, be fearless, and move on quickly to the next job if you make a mistake,” Garnder said.

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Gardiner quickly graduated to the Canterbury NPC team in 2021. He has already amassed 19 games, 16 wins, and four tries.

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His Crusaders debut was in a 33-12 win against Moana Pasifika in March 2022. That season he managed 139 minutes in six appearances under the careful eye of coach Scott Robertson.

“Razor takes extra responsibility for the loose forwards so it will be different without him around. Because he’s been there and done that, he understands how you’re feeling, and his feedback is constructive. The other thing the public doesn’t see with Razor is that he’s a very technical coach. His attention to detail is immense.”

In 2023 the Crusaders faced an injury crisis so serious they used 48 players and 39-year-old John Afoa was summoned out of retirement in France to cover prop. Gardiner more than tripled his minutes. He didn’t expect to participate in the finals but produced a heroic 24 minutes off the bench in the 25-20 win over the Chiefs in the Super Rugby decider in Hamilton.

A cut and bloody Gardiner made eight tackles and held his nerve against a Chiefs loose forward trio that featured three All Blacks.

“Most of the credit for that victory belongs to the coaching staff. They create that belief we can step up in the big moments,” Gardiner said.

“Personally, that final was redeeming. I’d been beaten up physically in my first game in Hamilton. I got stuck in a hole early and it got deeper. It was a baptism of fire.

“I’m not typically a nervous kind of guy but during the final, I was thinking the bench is the worst place to be. You can’t impact the game. When I went on, I didn’t want to take a backward step for anyone.”

If the officiating of Super Rugby is like that at the Rugby World Cup, then flankers might be forced to play with more trepidation. More than any other position flankers are prone to incur the wrath of referees.

“Consistency is the one thing players and fans want to see. I think we get that in New Zealand most of the time. Sometimes at the World Cup, it was a sweepstake on if it would be yellow or red,” Gardiner said.

Following seven titles and 99 wins in 118 matches Scott Roberston has moved on to the All Blacks. The Crusaders start their title defence on February 23 with a final replay against the Chiefs in Hamilton. Former Canterbury lock Rob Penney is the new coach.

“Rob is a different person and commutator, but he brings a lot of experience. I feel there is a lot of continuity across the coaching staff and that Crusaders ethos is still intact,” Gardiner warned.

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4 Comments
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Graham 140 days ago

Also interesting regarding some other Crusaders. Cullen Grace looks really good. Played well for Canterbury. Hard working with great line out skills. He was briefly an All Black in 2020. He is the type of player who will get greater recognition now Scott Robertson is the All Black coach.

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Graham 142 days ago

As stated Dominic Gardiners Dad Angus Gardiner was a outstanding loose forward for Canterbury and the Crusaders in the 1990’s. His captain for the balk of that time was the great Todd Blackadder, who captained the Crusaders to our first 3 titles. His son Ethan Blackadder , ( a team mate of Dominic’s now), has been a Crusader since 2018 and has played a number of games for the All Blacks. Ethan is a outstanding bloke and loose forward.

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Graham 145 days ago

Great article on young Crusaders loose forward Dominic Gardiner. Outstanding young man. His father Angus Gardiner should have been an All Black.At least as back up to Josh Kronfeld. I believe Dominic will be . Mobile, tough with a big work rate. I remember the day after the final when I saw him at the airport. He looked like he had been in a boxing fight!!Another St Bedes old boy is Dominic’s Canterbury team mate and Highlanders captain Billy Harmon. He is pressing for higher honours too.Just one correction to the article, Rob Penney was primarily a no8 for Canterbury in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Not a lock.

D
David 146 days ago

he can play at flanker and lock as well

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