TOKYO (Reuters) - New Zealand inside centre Ryan Crotty will make up for lost time when he runs on for his Rugby World Cup debut against South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday, having missed the All Blacks’ title win four years ago.
Crotty, 30, was not selected in 2015 and was touch-and-go for this year’s tournament when he broke his thumb playing for the Canterbury Crusaders in the Super Rugby semifinals.
But he was able to prove his fitness in the 92-7 rout of Tonga on Sept. 7 that was his first test of the year, and his last on New Zealand soil.
He will join Japanese side Kubota Spears after the World Cup, but has been selected to start against the Springboks ahead of Sonny Bill Williams, with coach Steve Hansen trumpeting his on-field leadership excellence on defence.
“It’s part of the reason I stuck around (in New Zealand rugby), to potentially have this opportunity,” Crotty said.
“But for me now it is just important to be where my feet are and if you start looking back too much you can come unstuck.
“I will just focus on where I am now to give myself the best chance to perform on Saturday. I try not to reflect too much (on the past) and keep moving forward.”
Crotty will earn a 46th cap and has dismissed the idea that he will be under-prepared for the intensity of the Pool B clash with the Boks, having only had one game of rugby since late June.
“I’m feeling great. With a sore thumb you can still do a lot of running. I’m grateful for the diligence of the medical team and the trainers to give me the best opportunity to be available for this moment. It has been a long time coming.”
As much as he will be an organiser on defence, Crotty says he and midfield partner Anton Lienert-Brown are also key to giving New Zealand’s clinical outside backs the space in which to play against an organised Bok defence.
“As a midfielder you want to straighten the attack and make sure we are not playing laterally,” he said.
“Our running lines and working our outside backs into space is important. So owning up in the attack is one skillset that the midfielders will have to bring this week.”
Crotty says he is driven by the desire to grab a win for the All Blacks, but also acknowledges his responsibility to the team having been selected ahead of Williams.
“You always have that sense of responsibility. All the boys will be feeling the same. You don’t want to let your mates down, you want to give it everything you have got.”
Reporting by Nick Said in Tokyo; Editing by Stephen Coates