'Dream' debut caps off Bower's journey from body double to All Black
George Bower’s inspirational story of hard work and perseverance reached a pinnacle on Saturday evening, as the 29-year-old Crusaders prop came on as a second half replacement to make his full All Blacks debut against Tonga.
A relative ‘late bloomer’ compared to other members of Ian Foster’s squad for this Steinlager Series (the average age being 26), Bower has shown a fantastic level of dedication over the last few years, to reach last night what he described as a “dream come true”.
Bower, born in Wellington and of Fijian decent, moved to Dunedin in 2014 to pursue a career in teaching and to plug an injury crisis for Dunedin club side Harbour Hawks. Between giving haircuts in his flats and starring in photoshoots for the All Blacks as a ‘body double’, Bower picked up some game time for Otago, before in 2019 getting a call to go and train with the Crusaders.
Despite making his Crusaders debut in 2019, Bower wasn’t properly named as a member of the squad until last year. Following a solid season, in which he made thirteen appearances for the Christchurch-based franchise, 2020 saw Bower called into the All Blacks squad for the first time as injury cover. Unfortunately, he was unable to gain his first cap whilst in Australia with the side.
On Saturday night however, Bower was able to go one better, capping off a remarkable few years and making his full All Blacks debut in a convincing 102-0 victory.
Bower, speaking after the match, was conscious of his journey into professional rugby starting a bit later than others in the side.
“I’m 29 now so I guess I have aged a bit before getting into footy,” Bower said. “When I did make it with the Crusaders, for me, I [wanted to be] just like everyone else – a sponge, learning as much as you can.”
Certainly, in Christchurch there was no shortage of quality to learn from.
“In my first year there, there were the likes of Owen Franks, Tim Perry, Joe Moody, even Michael Alaalatoa – all world-class props, so I took as much as I could from them and kind of just honed in and tried to add to my game, add to my strengths. It’s definitely a reason why I’m here today.”
Bower can now count himself among that distinguished group of test-level front rowers. Even still, the transition from All Blacks training squad to match-day 23 undeniably took a further effort on the young man’s part. Armed with the guidance and experiences of the camp in 2020 however, he had plenty to learn from and work on heading into 2021.
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“After getting called in last year at the end-of-year tour, they got me to put on a bit of weight,” remarked Bower. “It also gave me a bit of motivation to work hard this year and really put the work in throughout the Super Rugby season, so I could become an option to represent the All Blacks. I guess I just stuck to reaching my goals. My family were all watching it together at home and they were lost for words.”
Head coach Ian Foster was also happy with Bower’s efforts, praising the enthusiasm showed by the debutant. With his first test now under his belt, Bower will no doubt be keen to add to his tally as the All Blacks prepare to face Fiji on 10th July.
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