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Rookie Crusaders flanker Dominic Gardiner following in father's footsteps

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Angus Gardiner went out of his way to make sure nobody could accuse him of doing his son a favour, after the loose forward was on Monday named in the Crusaders’ 2022 squad. After all, the Crusaders general manager of rugby separated himself from contract talks between Dominic Gardiner and the Christchurch-based franchise – typically one of the most important jobs in his role. Gardiner instead let Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge and coach Scott Robertson handle the three-year deal with one of five newly minted rookies.“It’s a unique position when your dad is the general manager of rugby at the Crusaders and your son is contracted. On a professional note, Angus stepped away, and I did the contract with Colin,” Robertson said. Gardiner, who played 38 games for the Crusaders between 1996 and 1999, has been in his current role since 2016, having previously worked as team manager for four years.


He was himself a loose forward in his playing days, winning titles with the Crusaders alongside Robertson in 1998 and 1999. “Obviously, he is pretty proud and happy for me. It’s awesome to have him involved as well,” Dominic said. “My early memory of my father playing rugby was when I was about four years old. I used to go to my grandparents’ house, they had tapes of him playing for Canterbury and the Crusaders. It was cool to watch, and I’d always look out for his number on TV.”  Born and bred in Christchurch, Dominic is one of three new loose forwards in the Crusaders – the others being fellow rookie Corey Kellow and Argentinian recruit Pablo Matera. Like hooker Shilo Klein, prop Finlay Brewis and lock Zach Gallagher, they’re both Canterbury NPC players, and have come through the Crusaders’ academy. 


“I was out playing golf with a couple of my mates during level 3 lock down. I missed a phone call from Razor, so I had a bit of a mini heart attack and rung him back and, obviously, got the good news,” Gardiner said. The St Bede’s College old boy played first five-eighth and in the midfield during his junior playing days, before converting into a loose forward and thriving as first XV captain. He also played first XI cricket and hockey for St Bede’s, and was head boy.

The addition of him and Kellow, who holds three of the 10 Crusaders Academy all-time records for loose forwards, gives Robertson two promising youngsters to go with veteran loosies Ethan Blackadder, Matera, Tom Christie, Siona Havili Talitui and Cullen Grace. “I think that’s going to be the most invaluable thing in joining this squad. It might not be the big lessons, but just the little conversations [with them] in-between skill sessions where I will get my most learning,” Gardiner said.


“Corey is a great player in his own right. I think where I differ, I am a bit taller and offer more of an option in the lineout, and I can also can cover lock, whereas Corey is a pretty dynamic loose forward, plays six and seven, and can probably play No 8 as well.” Gallagher replaces long-time Crusader Luke Romano, after the 11th most capped Crusader (136 games between 2011 and 2021) wasn’t offered a new contract.

The 35-year-old has signed with the Blues, leaving Christ’s College product Gallagher to join a deep locking group, which includes Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Mitchell Dunshea and Quinten Strange. “We let him know at the start of the year it was our decision to move forward. The big thing for us is we've got 11 All Blacks, so with the four-year floating salary cap, sometimes you've got to make decisions what's best for the team, for the whole squad,” Robertson said. “Romano was massive value to us for many years, hugely important part of our team and culture. We wish him all the best for the next step....but it was time for us to go young.”


See the full 2022 Crusaders squad here.