All Black George Bridge will make his first appearance of the season, having been named to start on the wing for the Crusaders in their Super Rugby Aotearoa return clash with the Highlanders on Friday night.
Bridge’s last game of first-class rugby came in October of last year when the All Blacks drew 16-all with the Wallabies in Wellington.
In the days following that test, Bridge suffered a serious pectoral injury during a regulation training session which prevented him from taking the field again throughout 2020, missing the All Blacks’ Tri-Nations campaign as well as Canterbury’s turbulent Mitre 10 Cup season.
Having eased his way back into rugby with the Knights development side, Bridge will run out for the Crusaders in place of Sevu Reece on Friday, with Reece dropping to the bench in place of Dallas McLeod.
Bridge has customarily played on the left wing for both the Crusaders and All Blacks but coach Scott Robertson has evidently preferred to keep in-form 21-year-old Leicester Fainga’anuku in the No 11 jersey.
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“We’ve got an in-form back three,” coach Scott Robertson said during the Crusaders’ bye-week.
“But George is a champion bloke and a champion Crusader. He will get his opportunity to perform again. He’s going to put pressure on us to select him.”
The only other change to the lineup sees Mitchell Drummond take over from Bryn Hall at halfback in what’s become a somewhat customary swap for the Cantabrians.
The settled nature of the squad is in direct contrast to the widespread changes that Highlanders coach Tony Brown has employed again this week – though his hand has been forced somewhat for Friday night’s clash.
Still, Brown has made three fewer changes to the starting lineup than in the past two weeks.
In the opening round of the competition, the Crusaders inflicted a 26-13 loss on the Highlanders in Dunedin, and this week’s visitors will be hoping to avenge the home defeat.
Friday night’s game kicks off at 7:05pm from Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch and is available live and on-demand for RugbyPass subscribers who hold a Super Rugby Aotearoa season pass.
Crusaders: Will Jordan, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Richie Mo’unga, Mitch Drummond, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Oli Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece.
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