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Crotty looks to keep NZ momentum going

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 2/11/2016 Angelo Risso

All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty scored the try that kept his side's 2013 undefeated season alive, and has been apologising for it ever since.

Crotty, 28, came off the bench with his side struggling against the Irish in Dublin, only to pounce on an 82nd-minute Dane Coles offload to level the scores.

First-five Aaron Cruden then nailed the conversion from the sideline at the second time of asking for a 24-22 victory, securing an historic perfect Test campaign.

The moment was one of the Crusaders second-five's career highlights, but often makes for awkward small-talk with aggrieved Irishmen.

"I've had to apologise to every Irishman I've met since that day," Crotty said.

"It was a very special moment for me and for our team."

New Zealand will take on Ireland for the first time since their 2013 great escape on Saturday, looking to set themselves up for another perfect Test campaign.

The side blew away Wales 3-0 in their June series before cruising to the Rugby Championship with six bonus-point wins, leaving their winning streak at a record 18 Tests.

Crotty, who has claimed the second-five role as his own with four tries and 34 carries in the Rugby Championship, said he was loving life in the black No.12 jumper.

The South Island native had typically been used as a utility back until the 2015 departures of World Cup-winning midfield duo Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

"I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to get my chance in the midfield this year," Crotty said.

"There's four more big games this year and if I can play well, then I'll be pretty proud of the effort I've put forward."

The losses of Nonu and Smith after last year's World Cup defence were expected to leave a gaping hole in the All Blacks midfield, with no experienced replacements at No.12 or No.13.

Yet the 24-cap Crotty and fellow midfielders Anton Lienert-Brown, Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala have kept things ticking along perfectly.

Assistant coach Ian Foster said all four midfielders had played strongly when given the chance, providing the coaching staff with extra ways to tailor their team selection.

"The beauty of where we're at now is that we can be sure whoever is out on the park has the right skillset to play whoever we're playing," Foster said.

If selected, Crotty is expected to tussle at Soldier Field with former Crusaders teammate and Kiwi-born Irish centre Jared Payne.

Payne, 31, played for the Christchurch-based side in 2009 and 2010, and Crotty remembered him as a commanding presence on the park.

"He was always chirping at the midfielders, telling us to pass it," Crotty said.

"It'll be good to lock horns."

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