Scott Robertson names 'the most multi-skilled utility player' he's ever coached
Crusaders boss Scott Robertson believes his vice-captain David Havili is “the most multi-skilled utility player” he has ever coached.
That’s some high praise given the calibre of players Robertson has been in charge of during his championship-laden spells at the Crusaders, Canterbury and New Zealand U20 side since 2008.
However, the Crusaders boss told media in the lead-up to Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Chiefs that Havili, who will make his 100th Super Rugby appearance in that game, is a worthy recipient of that title.
“We’ve talked about this before,” Robertson said of Havili’s seemingly permanent positional switch from fullback to second-five, one that was made last year to accomodate for his side’s glut of star power in the outside backs.
“I suppose I don’t see it as a sacrifice, I see it as an opportunity for himself to be the best player he could be and take opportunities at the next level, which he’s done, and been incredible in it.
“He, for me, is probably the most multi-skilled utility player that I’ve ever coached, and to go to 12 now and specialise is pretty unique. Not many people do it, so [to go] from a world-class fullback to a world-class midfielder is a unique talent.”
The decision to move Havili from fullback to the midfield has paid dividends for the 27-year-old, whose All Blacks career was revived last year following his positional switch at Super Rugby level after a four-year absence from test rugby.
Having played the last of his three tests back in 2017, Havili went on to feature in 12 tests in 2021, all of which he played second-five in.
Although he was the subject of criticism for his performances at international level as the year wore on, the major reason behind Havili’s All Blacks recall can be attributed to his move closer to the action while at the Crusaders.
That wasn’t something the man in question was comfortable with initially doing, though, as Havili revealed he had some concerns about the concept when it was first proposed to him by Robertson.
“It was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow when Ray wanted me to go into the midfield, but it’s a credit to him and his coaching staff,” Havili said. “At the time I didn’t see it and I felt like my position was 15.
“They gave me opportunities in the midfield to grow and get better, and then once I got a bit more time under my belt and got used to it and had a lot of player outside me that helped me make the transition a lot easier.
“Stepping into international side of things, I guess it just made me realise that I wanted to play in the midfield and being allowed to get that experience and that exposure at that level has just helped me grow my game.”
Part of the transition into the No 12 jersey was made easier by the connections Havili made with his fellow All Blacks midfielders, including Quinn Tupaea, the prodigious Chiefs second-five who he will mark at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton.
“We bonded over the end-of-year tour, but it is what it is. We’re going out there to compete against each other. He’s going to be the same, we’ll be going hammer and tongs,” Havili said of his opposite.
“It’s going to be an awesome match-up and like I said, we’re going out there to compete against each other and both teams want to win.”
Not only would victory ensure Havili with an appropriate celebration for his centenary Crusaders match, but it would also provide Robertson’s men with redemption after they fell to a last-gasp 24-21 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs a fortnight ago.
That loss proved to be the first of the year for the Crusaders, so Robertson is keen to honour Havili’s milestone match, and the return of crowds following New Zealand’s relaxation of Covid restrictions, with a bounce back win.
“Firstly, it’s a unique situation. You don’t normally play teams two games in a row. You do that in Europe and it’s quite cool, it’s sort of like a little bit of a head-to-head,” Robertson said.
“The uniqueness of it, the crowd coming back in, getting beaten last time, there’s a lot of determination in the group and a lot of hurt from last time.
“The opportunity’s come round quick enough for us. We’ll take any game we can at the moment. And again, with Dave’s 100th, it’s going to be a belter.”
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