The three exciting young backs are charged with breaking down Australia’s resistance at Eden Park with the same raw attacking skills that carried the Crusaders to another Super Rugby crown last month.
Wingers Bridge and Reece are thrust under the brightest spotlight, as replacements for accomplished pair Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane, whose flat form contributed to last week’s shock 47-26 loss in Perth.
Hoisting the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday will mark a new high point in a roller coaster year for all three.
Reece has battled negative public sentiment since pleading guilty to a domestic violent incident late last year and being discharged without conviction.
The 22-year-old’s contract with Irish club Connacht was ripped up and he looked like entering the rugby wilderness until the Crusaders offered a lifeline, for which he repaid them in spades with a competition-high 15 tries.
Mo’unga and Bridge were both accused of offensive behaviour in separate late-night incidents on a Crusaders tour to South Africa in May.
Both players refuted the allegations and after a prolonged employment investigation, New Zealand Rugby cleared the pair of “serious breaches” although Mo’unga was admonished after he acknowledged he had been drinking.
Both have said they’ve learned lessons and moved on.
Bridge was a bundle of excited nerves this week after learning he’d make a maiden All Blacks start.
“We all know this is a pretty big Test to be involved in so to get a start, I’m bloody excited about it,” he said.
“We’ve all seen what Sevu can do this year, and that’s pretty exciting.
“There’s obviously a lot of pressure on us but we just want to bring the energy and get our hands on the ball and nail our roles within the team.”
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