All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty has marked his return from a long-term hand injury with a brace of tries for Canterbury in their 80-0 demolition of Southland in the Mitre 10 Cup in Christchurch on Saturday.
Despite missing the Super Rugby final and being unavailable for all four of the All Blacks’ tests to date this year, Crotty was named in Steve Hansen’s 31-man All Blacks squad for next month’s World Cup.
His selection was one of many key talking points surrounding the squad announcement, as his inclusion forced the omission of Ngani Laumape, who many believed deserved to be in the side due to his barnstorming form over the past two years.
However, Crotty silenced his critics with a strong 40-minute showing at Orangetheory Stadium as Canterbury easily dispatched a struggling Southland outfit, whose winning drought is closing in on three years.
Hansen had noted that the experience, leadership and versatility of Crotty – who was playing at second-five in this, his 68th and likely final match for Canterbury – was what got him the nod over Laumape.
Plenty of those facets of the former’s game were on show in the Garden City as he ran in two of his side’s 12 tries.
The first came from a re-start after a Luke Romano try, with former All Blacks loose forward Luke Whitelock kicking off a 65 metre break, which saw the ball go through the hands of rookie first-five Fergus Burke and veteran midfielder Tim Bateman, who assisted Crotty with a simple pass.
It took just another six minutes for the 44-test midfielder to grab his second try, which came after a gaping hole opened up in Southland’s defensive line from a lineout inside their 22.
Canterbury halfback Mitchell Drummond bolted through and passed to the supporting Crotty, who ploughed through a couple of tackle attempts to crash over by the posts.
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Presumably under strict instructions from Hansen, Canterbury head coach Joe Maddock pulled Crotty from the field at half-time to cap off a successful return to rugby after two months out of action.
He was one of three Cantabrians to bag a pair of tries, with Drummond and electric fullback Josh McKay also scoring twice.
All three players were standouts in the 80-point thrashing, as were the likes of replacement pivot Brett Cameron, discarded Fijian wing Patrick Osborne and young openside flanker Tom Christie.
The result won’t elevate Canterbury above the Premiership relegation zone, as they remain in last place with eight points, one off the pace of the sixth-placed North Harbour and three points away from a top four berth.
The Stags, meanwhile, are yet to pick up a competition point this year as they go in search of their first win in the Mitre 10 Cup since October 2016.
Crotty will now turn his attention to his duties with the All Blacks as they prepare to take on Tonga in their final World Cup warm-up match in Hamilton next week.
The All Blacks’ World Cup campaign kicks off against South Africa in Yokohama on September 21.
Canterbury 80 (Tries to Mitchell Drummond (2), Ryan Crotty (2), Josh McKay (2), Tom Christie, Luke Romano, Fergus Burke, Mitchell Dunshea, Dallas McLeod, Luke Whitelock tries; Burke 4 con, Brett Cameron 6 con)
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