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Romano's throwback performance 'shows the amount of footy he's missed out on'

By Tom Vinicombe
Luke Romano. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Photosport)

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While there were strong performances across the park from the Blues on Friday night, it’s hard to look past the contributions of former Crusader Luke Romano.

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The 36-year-old second-rower put in a mammoth 80-minute effort against his old teammates in the Blues’ surprise 27-23 victory, notching up 12 tackles and clattering into breakdown after breakdown to help his side to their first win in Christchurch since 2004.

Romano spent 11 seasons with the Crusaders, earning 136 appearances for the club throughout the period.

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Despite being an important cog in the red and black machine in the early stages of his career, the emergence of Scott Barrett and subsequently Mitchell Dunshea and Quinten Strange saw Romano on restricted minutes in recent years.

Having started 15 games for the Crusaders in 2015, run-on appearances became difficult to find for the 31-test All Black as time wore on and Romano was restricted to just two appearances off the bench against the Chiefs and Western Force last year.

 

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Already this season, Romano has earned six starts for the Blues and one run off the pine. Against the Crusaders on Friday night, Romano managed more game-time than he earned throughout all of 2020 for his former team.

“It was amazing, wasn’t it, really? I think it potentially shows the amount of footy he’s missed out on,” former All Blacks and Crusaders captain Kieran Read said following the match on Sky Sports‘ post-game show. “The type of player he was in the last three or four years, he hasn’t had those opportunities.

“He’s a good mate of mine, he’s such a true Canterbury, Crusaders man. Seeing him in the Blues is a little bit off but just to see him rolling up his sleeves and go to work, to see the happiness back in him, that’s what you want to see.”

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said following the game that Romano’s shift up to Auckland had helped rejuvenate the big lock.

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“I suppose he’s got nothing to lose, he just wants to enjoy his rugby now,” he said. “He’s had a fantastic career and a nice way for him to sort of close his career out by coming up to Auckland, which just suits him.”

The man himself was simply pleased to be a part of a historic result for the Blues.

“I’m just stoked for the Blues rugby union – not just the players but all the past players and everyone back in Auckland,” said Romano. “It’s been 18 years, I think, since the Blues last won down here so it means a lot to the Blues. I’m just glad to be a part of it and help them conquer the Crusaders.”

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Romano hoped the impressive performance in Christchurch – including repelling the home team’s late assaults on the line – would help springboard the Blues onto better and brighter things.

“The Blues have sort of been a team [that’s] there or thereabouts for the last few years and I think after last year, and also the start of this year, we’re realising how good we can be and they’re starting to play that way.

“So obviously getting a win here tonight and holding the Crusaders out there at the end – because jeez they were coming out of that home stretch fast – [will] just give the boys a world of confidence and hopefully we can just keep getting better every week.

“We’ve got a tough Australian leg of the competition now so it’s good to have some momentum.”

Unsurprisingly, Romano has built some strong relationships with many of his former teammates in Crusaders country and while it wouldn’t have been a shock to see a little bit of light-hearted niggle on the field, there weren’t too many words spoken between Romano and the Crusaders players – bar one small exchange with prop Joe Moody.

“Every game at Super Rugby level, it’s physical and obviously the Crusaders have always prided themselves on that – and I’ve been a part of that,” he said. “So I knew what was coming.

“Me and Moods had a bit of a cuddle out there at one stage and there was a bit of chat there but it’s just friendly banter. The majority of them are good mates. It was all in good spirits, it was good.”

Next weekend, both the Blues and Crusaders will travel to Melbourne for the inaugural Super Round, which will see all 14 teams take to the field at AAMI Park over one epic weekend of rugby.

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