Crusaders ready to unleash hulking new propping prospect on All Blacks front-rowers
It’s no understatement to suggest that the Crusaders are perhaps the best propping factory in the world, regularly converting inexperienced players into contenders for international jerseys.
The likes of Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Alex Hodgman and George Bower have all passed through the Crusaders systems in the last decade and have all spent time in the All Blacks environment.
The Crusaders are now preparing to unleash their newest recruit on a Blues pack that’s also not short of talent in the front row.
Australia-born Tamaiti Williams, who spent two years in the New Zealand Secondary Schools side and two years with the New Zealand Under 20s, has been named on the Crusaders’ bench for Sunday’s grudge match with the Blues.
He’ll likely come on in place of loosehead George Bower – but is capable of propping up both sides of the scrum.
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Coach Scott Robertson has said the ANZAC Day fixture is just reward for the 21-year-old, who’s been working hard off the pitch in his debut season with the Crusaders.
“Tamaiti is a big human. It’s a great opportunity for him to come in as a young fella and play a big match,” Robertson said. “He’s trained really well and he’s ready to go.
“He can play both sides, which is pretty incredible for a man that’s six-five, 130 odd kg.”
Williams is a product of Saint Kentigern College (although he began his schooling at Kerikeri College in New Zealand’s far north), the high school that’s produced the likes of Joe Rokocoko, Jerome Kaino, John Afoa and, more recently, TJ Faiane, Braydon Ennor and Blake Gibson.
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Robertson made it clear that while his new prop is from the north, he’s now a Crusaders man through and through.
“He was an Auckland boy,” Robertson said. “[Sunday’s match is] probably a little bit more personal, obviously, [give] where he comes from and his history… Everyone up north will be really proud of him. He’s worked really hard and he’s good to go.”
As mentioned by Robertson, Williams’ physical measurements are impressive and put him in good stead for the future – but how will he fair when up against the likes of Karl Tu’inukuafe and Nepo Laulala on Sunday?
Even if Williams joins the fray late in the match, the Blues have Ofa Tuungafasi ready to unleash from the bench.
It will be a mammoth challenge for the young prop, and one that will test his mettle in his first season with the Crusaders – but given the Canterbury side are rarely embarrassed at scrum time, it’s difficult to imagine Robertson putting up his young charge as a lamb to the slaughter.
Elsewhere in the pack, the Crusaders have restored All Blacks Samuel Whitelock, Codie Taylor and Cullen Grace to the starting lineup for a game that could guarantee them a home final in two weeks’ time.
Sunday’s match kicks off at 3:35pm NZT from Christchurch.
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