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'They could be All Blacks': Scott Robertson's praise for Crusaders standouts

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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The Crusaders are already blessed with a plethora of All Blacks, but head coach Scott Robertson believes there are a few uncapped players in his ranks who could still yet make the step up to test rugby.

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Robertson was mostly pleased with his side’s hard-fought 34-19 Super Rugby Pacific victory over the Highlanders in a classic South Island derby at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.

While the scoreline indicates a comfortable win for the serial title-winners, it was anything but for the Crusaders, who had to withstand an early onslaught from the hosts as they raced out to a 13-0 lead inside the opening quarter of an hour.

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In typical Crusaders fashion, though, the visitors hammered their way back into the encounter, with a Sevu Reece brace and the goal-kicking of Fergus Burke edging them into a one-point advantage at the break.

It remained a tightly-contested affair right up until the final 10 minutes, when some Will Jordan magic, both with ball in hand and off his boot, helped propel the Crusaders to a bonus-point victory.

Jordan’s stunning evasiveness enabled him to score the try of the match as it entered its final stages, an act that severely dented the Highlanders’ momentum as they tried to overturn their one-point deficit at that stage of the game.

The 2021 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year was also responsible for pegging the Highlanders deep inside their own territory with a well-taken 50/22 shortly after his try.

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That kick eventually led to reserve prop Tamaiti Williams’ match-sealing try with three minutes to play, leaving Robertson to lather Jordan in praise for what was effectively a game-clinching sequence of plays within a handful of minutes of each other.

“Will’s class,” Robertson said post-match. “Anticipation and instinct, backed with that speed he’s got, set him right up there. Played some big moments for us: that 50/22 and obviously the try, he was superb tonight.”

The newly-turned 24-year-old wasn’t the only player who caught Robertson’s eye throughout the course of the match, though, as he was also impressed with the impact provided by props Williams and George Bower from the bench.

Both players contributed strongly upon their inductions into the game, with Bower, the 11-test All Black, folding ex-Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley in his first scrum of the match.

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Williams, meanwhile, used his enormous 1.96m, 144kg frame to full effect when in possession of the ball, with his size playing a key role in allowing him to rumble over for his try.

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Robertson has previously pinpointed Williams, along with fellow youngster Fletcher Newell, as players to watch for this season, and he doubled down on that sentiment as he spoke with pride of his tighthead prop stocks.

“George Bower came on strong. Tamaiti Williams was great with ball in hand. Got a good scrum penalty as well. We’re really pleased. We’ve got depth there,” Robertson said.

“When you lose Owen Franks and then Mikey Alaalatoa, the next ones roll out. They could be All Blacks – Oli Jager – they’re good players.”

Friday’s win over their southern neighbours leaves the Crusaders at the summit of the Super Rugby Pacific standings early in the second round of the competition.

After having left their Queenstown bubble, Christchurch-based outfit are scheduled to continue their campaign against newcomers Moana Pasifika, who are still yet to play this year, at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin next Friday.

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