By Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald

Crusaders wing George Bridge politely suggests those thinking the Super Rugby champions are due for a dip this year – after losing a wealth of experience in Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Matt Todd and Owen Franks – may want to think again.

He says Scott Robertson’s men, hoping to blaze yet another trail by winning four championships in a row, have been invigorated by the new, impressive, talent coming through.

Robertson, determined to put the disappointment of missing out on All Blacks head coach behind him, has again gone outside the square in selecting former Wales international wing Mark Jones as an assistant coach, and in an interview with the Herald, Bridge added that it was business as usual for the man known as Razor.

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“Four in a row is the main objective but I think the fact we have a couple of new coaches and new leadership group brings a couple of new factors which is really exciting,” Bridge said. “It changes things a little bit for the better – there are a few new voices around.

“We just want to keep getting better and better which I think is a really good mindset. We’ve had a really good pre-season and have quite a few young lads coming through who are bloody exciting to watch – I experienced that [last] weekend for the first time.

“Super Rugby is such a tough competition so having that depth is really important. I feel we’ve got that so hopefully we can be consistently performing every weekend.”

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Keeping the consistency of the past three years will be a challenge in this season of rebuilding, but it’s the same for just about every other team in the competition.

There is no denying the experience the Crusaders have lost. But with captain Scott Barrett, Joe Moody, Luke Romano, Codie Taylor, Mitch Drummond and Whetukamokamo Douglas in the new-look leadership group, there is still a steely look to their squad.

“And I see myself as a leader coming through,” Bridge added. “Even though we lost a lot of caps, a lot of us having been playing four-plus years of Super Rugby now. It’s not like we’re inexperienced at all.”

Bridge, 24, enjoyed a massive breakout year in 2019. He had been on the All Black scene since late 2018 but it was starring role in the rout of the Wallabies at Eden Park – on the opposite wing to Crusaders teammate Sevu Reece – which really launched him into the stratosphere.

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He handled each challenge with calmness and control, scored tries in the big World Cup tests against the Springboks and Ireland, and now must be considered the incumbent for the black No 11 jersey.

“I enjoyed last year,” he said. “It was a long year. I had that disappointment at the end of it which has given me a real drive to keep improving. Obviously Super Rugby is such a quality competition and I just want to keep getting better. We’ve got some quality outside backs too which has been keeping me on my toes.”

Coach Robertson endured his own personal challenge when losing out to Ian Foster for the All Blacks job before Christmas but Bridge said there was no sign of that at Crusaders headquarters.

“Obviously he was pretty disappointed not to get that but he loves our team and he has put so much time and effort into it over the last few years. I don’t think anything has changed. He’s made that pretty clear. He cares about the team. I’ve only been in for a week but what I’ve seen is business as usual.”

This article first appeared in nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission.

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