'He's come back a big boy': The late All Blacks addition that's set for a massive season with the Crusaders
Before the 2020 test season kicked off, Crusaders prop George Bower was probably on few rugby fans’ radars. Even now, ahead of the 2021 Super Rugby season, there are probably many across the country who couldn’t pick the burly prop out from a line-up of men.
It was a quick rise for Bower, who only debuted for the Crusaders in 2019 and has spent most of Super Rugby caps riding the pine behind Joe Moody.
The Crusaders, of course, are a certified propping factory and despite having stalwart looseheads Moody and Wyatt Crockett on the books for the majority of the last decade, Bower and fellow No 1 Tim Perry have both also earned spots in the national squad.
While Bower didn’t get the opportunity to actually wear the black jersey last year, the late bloomer still has time to earn a maiden test cap – and that journey begins when Super Rugby Aotearoa kicks off at the end of the month.
Already, he’s packed on a few extra pounds ahead of the pre-season that will help him make a case for higher honours.
“He’s come back a big boy,” said Crusaders assistant coach Andrew Goodman of Bower. “The All Blacks’ set-up was ideal for him. He was over there for a month, two months on hotel food where he didn’t have to worry about getting his meals prepared and the ability to train in the gym for a lot of the time because he wasn’t out on the field playing so many minutes.”
Were it not for an incredibly tough decision two years ago, Bower would not even be warranting a mention in the national prop discussion.
In early 2019, Fiji coach John McKee approached Bower with an eye towards including the front-rower in his World Cup squad.
“I had just started scratching the surface last year and so, in a way, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise I didn’t take that opportunity. I’d love to play for my home country but the All Blacks has definitely been a dream of mine, to put on the jersey.
“But that definitely was a hard decision I had to make.”
The @AllBlacks and Les Bleus are set to square off at the 2023 Rugby World Cup – and the French have now indicated when they'd prefer to go to battle with their arch-rivals. #AllBlacks @FranceRugbyhttps://t.co/gO0bob1sn1
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 3, 2021
Ahead of his call-up to the All Blacks last year, Bower revealed that he’d had chats with the NZ scrum coach Greg Feek over how he could push his name into the selection equation.
“We sat down and had a good meeting and just a bit of advice in how to better my game and what I can do to really put my hand up to be an option kind of thing,” he told RNZ.
“I got a lot out of that and also [All Blacks assistant coach] Brad Mooar – I know Brad Mooar from last year when he helped the Crusaders. Just throughout the week we’d talk and things like that, so I know what I need to do to be an option in case of an injury or something like that.”
Evidently, the 28-year-old took the feedback in his stride.
While the Crusaders still have Moody to call on in 2021, the quick-fire high-intensity nature of the Aotearoa competition means that Bower will have plenty of opportunities to press his claim this year.
Likewise, Isi Tu’ungafasi and 20-year-old Fletcher Newell will also be hungry for minutes, while the tight-head side of the scrum will be propped up by Samoan international Michael Alaalatoa, Irishman Oli Jager and youngster Tamaiti Williams.
Bower, by the end of the season, will certainly have a few opposition players quaking in their boots when they see the big man’s name on the teamsheet – perhaps some fans will take notice too.
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