The tough decisions that will define Will Jordan's career: 'I think they knew that they couldn't offer me what I was looking for'
Will Jordan has always been destined for big things. Despite plenty of interest from across the country from teams who would happily start him in the fullback jersey week after week, however, the talented outside back is more than happy to work his way up through the ranks with the Crusaders.
Jordan’s career was kickstarted out of the famous Christchurch Boys’ High School – the stomping ground where the likes of Dan Carter, Andrew Mehrtens, Brodie Retallick and Anton Lienert-Brown all were schooled in the art of rugby.
In Jordan’s final year with the college, he dotted down 19 times in 11 matches to top the Canterbury competition’s try-scoring charts and while the star missed out on New Zealand secondary schools selection, the pace-setter had set tongues wagging across the country.
“Back when I was playing school rugby, I wasn’t taking it too seriously in the sense of thinking it was going to be a career or anything like that,” Jordan told RugbyPass. “I was just really enjoying my footy.
“I made the Crusaders Junior Knights team [Under 18 side], but then didn’t make the New Zealand Schools or Barbarians teams. at the time it was a little disappointing, but as I said, I didn’t really see rugby as a career path and it was probably fair enough I didn’t make those teams so I didn’t have too many gripes about it.
“Off the back of playing for Canterbury Under 19s my first year out of school, I was also offered a contract by Waikato to play in the NPC the next year.”
That was to be the first of many attempts that teams outside of the Crusaders region have tried to lure Jordan away from where he grew up – which is entirely understandable, given the type of rugby that the 22-year-old has been producing over his first three years of professional football.
Understandably, the powers that be in Canterbury weren’t too happy with the idea of losing one of their brightest upcoming talents to another region and a plan was put in action.
“Off the back of that approach, I met with Brad Mooar, who was the Crusaders’ assistant coach at the time,” Jordan revealed. “I had a bit of a relationship with him as he’d done some work with the Under 19s and he said the Crusaders were pretty keen for me to stay within the region.
“At the time, Canterbury had a pretty big backlog of outside backs. It was George Bridge, Braydon Ennor, Johnny McNicholl and those sorts of guys. They said that it was going to be a couple of years before I had an opportunity to play there whereas Tasman had some opportunity to play now.”
Jordan eventually packed up his gear and headed up the Lewis Pass to settle in Nelson for the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup, where the then-19-year-old scored five tries in 10 games.
“I think that was the best move for me at the time,” said Jordan. “I loved my footy up in Tasman and ended up managing to get those regular minutes at Mitre 10 Cup level which was great for me and growing my game.
“I’m sure Canterbury would’ve liked me to have stayed but, in the end, I don’t think there were too many hard feelings that I took the opportunity to play more regularly. I think they knew that they couldn’t offer me what I was looking for.”
It was a huge boon for the Tasman region – but it also worked out perfectly for the Crusaders, who were able to keep Jordan in the area while also spreading their region’s talent.
Jordan was first named in the Crusaders side for the 2018 Super Rugby season but a couple of head knocks sustained in that debut campaign with Tasman kept the youngster sidelined with concussion, forcing him to wait a year before he could debut against the Blues.
Since that match, the talented fullback has gone from strength to strength – and that’s partially thanks to Scott Robertson being willing to chuck young players on the pitch.
“Certainly something I’ve noticed over the last three or four years I’ve been in the team is just the way Razor backs his younger guys,” Jordan said. “If people are playing well and performing then he’s happy to pick them and if older, experienced players get injured, he doesn’t panic too much.
“He’s got a real ‘next man up’ philosophy. It doesn’t matter how many games you’ve played or how old you are, he’ll back you to go out there and do the job. I think that keeps the squad really engaged knowing that Razor will back you.”
And while Jordan’s age has never held him back, he’s still fighting with some of the fiercest competition for a spot in the Crusaders’ outside backs, week after week.
This year, Jordan’s competing with All Blacks Sevu Reece, George Bridge and David Havili, as well as promising youngsters like Leicester Fainga’anuku and Fetuli Paea while Manasa Mataele is still in the process of returning from a knee injury.
Unsurprisingly, rival Super Rugby sides have sought to lure Jordan away from the Crusaders with the promise of more game time.
The Highlanders, in particular, have proven remarkably successful at luring talent south from the Crusaders region. Josh McKay, who was pivot at CBHS when Jordan was playing fullback, is in his second season with the Highlanders while the likes of Mitch Hunt, Ngane Punivai, Sam Gilbert and Tima Fainga’anuku all hail from Canterbury and Tasman. Jordan was their next target.
Tom Christie was turning heads early in the season after week upon week of exceptional performances.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 20, 2020
“When I came off contract at the end of the last season, I had a few other teams who came calling and I had really a tough decision to make around what I wanted to do in the future,” said Jordan.
“I’d had a few opportunities with the Crusaders but I knew game time would still be pretty hard to come by with the likes of George, Dave and Sevu, those guys in the outside backs.
“It was definitely something I considered, heading to the Landers or the Blues. I did have a chat with Rangi [Blues head coach Leon MacDonald] when I was off-contract last year. He was a big reason for me heading up to Tasman as well, obviously with him having a played fullback at a very high level for both the Crusaders and the All Blacks. He’s a great coach and you can see he’s doing great things for the Blues now. Full credit to him for he’s done for their culture and their team.
“Both are great teams with great cultures, but I think at the end of the day the opportunity to keep playing for my hometown province, a team that’s had a good track record of producing All Blacks and developing players was something that was too tough to turn down.”
While the Highlanders were believed to be the side closest to tearing Jordan away from his home franchise, it wasn’t to be. Instead, he signed a new three-year deal with the Crusaders mid-way through last year.
The fact that Jordan’s Crusaders teammate Braydon Ennor was able to get a call-up to the national side, despite also spending many a week riding the pine, was also probably reassuring for the youngster.
“Rugby is a full 23 or squad game now. It’s nice to know that even if you’re coming off the bench, if you can come on and make an impact then it doesn’t necessarily rule you out for those higher honours. I guess that does help with the decision about where you’re going to play, you factor in some of that and knowing that it won’t hurt you potentially too much down the line.”
Still, while playing for the All Blacks is naturally the long-term goal for any rugby player growing up in New Zealand, a Super Rugby player spends half the year with their club and it can become challenging when you’re only on limited minutes.
“I think definitely if you’re not playing that week and you’re not getting picked then it is a little bit frustrating. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing last week, for example, coming off the bench [against the Blues],” Jordan said. “But at the end of the day, that’s footy. For me in particular, I’ve chosen to be here. I could have left if I wanted to, but you know that competition is part and parcel of being a Crusader.
“Like I said, it’s all part of the game these days, it’s a whole 23 or squad effort. Whether I’m coming off the bench or starting, I’ve got a role to play and I guess what you can focus on is just playing as well as you can and hope that selection and all that will take care of itself.”
"That was just the thing to do – you play your rugby down there, you stick down there, and then they may bring other players in."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 11, 2020
Jordan’s also quick to point out that he and the man he’s been in most competition with, Tasman captain David Havili, has also been an excellent mentor for him since he joined the Mako.
“Dave has been great for me, helping me to get better as a player and passing his experience of playing big games on to me. We both want to be starting, but I think we’ve both done a pretty good job over the last couple of years of putting that sort of competition aside and doing what’s best for the team and who is playing that week, preparing them as best we can.
“We play golf together every week on our day off and that. I think on the field and at training and that, you’re pushing each other to keep getting better, but it’s for the benefit of the team. I don’t think anyone’s going there trying to prove too much of a point at training, it’s about whoever is in the jersey that week, preparing them as well as you can. Once we leave the field, then we leave all that behind and just get on well as mates and enjoy each other’s company.”
Havili won’t feature in the remainder of the Crusaders’ Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign due to a fractured thumb, which now presents Jordan with the perfect opportunity to lock down the fullback spot and really press his claim for higher honours.
Still, even if the starts were to continue to prove hard to come by, you suspect that Jordan is comfortable with the position he’s currently in – learning from some of the best players in the business in an environment that cultivates growth and success.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at the moment and it’s great to be playing for the Crusaders,” Jordan said. “Having grown up in Christchurch and watching the Crusaders play, the opportunity to play for them has always really enticing for me.
“I remember going watching the Crusaders win titles and having so many great players come through; it was something that I really wanted to be a part of and particularly when I first came to the squad, there were so many legends playing the game for the team.
“I can’t really see myself playing for another team at the moment and when you’ve grown up watching one team play it’s pretty tough to turn down an opportunity to play for them.”
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