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Crockett Rises Again After San Siro Nightmare

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

London, Dec 1 NZPA - It was a brutal lesson in test rugby, but All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett is glad he went through it.

With more than 80,000 Italians whistling and jeering, a shattered Crockett trudged off San Siro last month in the prop's version of the walk of shame, still over 20 minutes remaining in his third test appearance.

The fallout from the scrum debacle, where Italian tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni appeared to demolish the Canterbury strongman, echoed through the next week.

Coach Graham Henry complained about Italy's scrum tactics, then International Rugby Board (IRB) referees' boss Paddy O'Brien waded into referee Stu Dickinson for what he deemed incorrect rulings.

He confirmed the All Blacks' assertions that Castrogiovanni was boring in illegally.

For Crockett, it was a relief that someone understood, and that his concerned family back in New Zealand could stop worrying.

"Initially I was pretty disappointed and frustrated because we'd worked really hard and we wanted to scrummage. On our ball we managed to get some really good clean ball, when it came to their ball, every time we'd get a good hit they'd take it down or in," Crockett said.

"They had 29 scrums on their ball, and something like 24 of those were re-setted. It was pretty annoying but the coaches and (scrum advisor) Mike Cron were pretty supportive.

"There wasn't too much we could do, but there were a couple of things that I've been able to work on to hopefully combat that sort of scrummaging."

Crockett quickly got over the disappointment of being subbed for John Afoa after his protests to Dickinson fell on deaf ears. And now the 26-year-old, who made his test debut against Italy in June, feels better for it.

"It's been a huge learning experience and without going through it, it would be hard to teach someone that.

"It's good to have that behind me now, and knowing how they do it there's a bit more confidence propping against guys like that."

Incumbent Tony Woodcock returned from a back injury for the tests against England and France and Crockett has had to dig in at training and wait for the chance to show what he learned - which will likely happen against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday (NZT).

He expects he'll face South African tighthead WP Nel for the first time and is ready for anything, and hopes French ref Cristophe Bertos also plays ball.

It's been an even propping battle on tour, with Woodcock and Neemia Tialata now the established frontliners while Crockett, Owen Franks and John Afoa battle it out.

Crockett's efforts during Woodcock's absence in the 19-12 win over Wales gave him confidence he had the goods at test level, as he dominated the recalled Paul James.

"It went pretty well against Wales but we got penalised a couple of times there which was pretty frustrating.

"One of the aims this week is not to get penalised too much. Just make the most of it, it's another opportunity.

"It's been a really big year in terms of experience, and hopefully next year I can launch into the season with a lot of confidence."

The All Blacks are expected to name a team close to the second-string lineup who beat Italy 20-6 as the fringe men get one final chance to impress.

After two days of light activity on arrival in London, they will train for the first time early tomorrow before the team are announced.

The Barbarians, with a squad including All Black Joe Rokocoko, Springboks Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana, and Wallabies Rocky Elsom, Matt Giteau and George Smith, will also name their starting 15 tomorrow.

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