How George Bower fought his way into a starting All Blacks jersey
Perhaps one of the more surprising selections in the All Blacks team named to take on the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe Cup match of the year comes in the front row.
Bower was first called into the All Blacks squad for last year’s Tri-Nations competition in Australia but never made it onto the park. Instead, the All Blacks opted to run with Tu’inukuafe, Joe Moody and Alex Hodgman.
Moody is unavailable for Saturday’s match due to injury while Hodgman missed out on the selection this year. Tu’inukuafe, meanwhile, missed the All Blacks’ two tests against Fiji after suffering a shoulder injury in New Zealand’s sizeable 102-0 win over Tonga but is now back on deck.
Coach Ian Foster, however, has opted to retain Bower in the No 1 jersey, with Tu’inukuafe set to make his return from the bench.
Senior All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor, who has regularly packed down alongside Bower at the Crusaders over the past three seasons, isn’t surprised his fellow front-rower is making such a splash with the New Zealand national side.
“He’s probably one of the fittest props I’ve ever met,” said Taylor on Thursday. “He runs a bloody good bronco time and just his charisma off the field – he’s a good man.
“And his willingness to learn. He debuted a bit later in his career but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to learn and absorb as much as he can to make him a better player and he’s done that since he’s had an opportunity with the Crusaders and just taking steps forward every year.
“I think he’s settled in quite nicely into the group, without getting comfortable … He’s a great man and he just wants to absorb everything he can into his learning.
“The more simple it is for him out there on the field, the better he plays – and I think we’ve seen that. He’s really stepped his game up in that physical part of it, around his defence and his ball-carrying ability and his scrummaging has been unreal to date. I think he should be pretty confident in his ability to just go out there and back himself and I think we’ve seen that in the first tests that he’s played in, and let’s hope to see it in a big one this week.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 5, 2021
It seems that Bower’s physicality has been the major work-on for the late-bloomer, with Foster also noting following the All Blacks’ second win over Fiji in July that he’d been impressed with how Bower had involved himself in the match – even if he’d been slightly overeager at times.
“I thought George was pretty excited tonight, early,” Foster noted. “He got someone high and he got off the line a bit quick but I’ve just been really impressed the last couple of weeks with his intention to get up and get involved in the collision area
“The scrummaging is going from strength to strength. I’ll give Feeky [All Blacks scrum coach Greg Feek] a bit pat on the back for the work he’s doing in that space.”
For loose forward Ardie Savea, however, Bower’s greatest strength is what he does off the field.
“He’s a real humble man from Taita,” said Savea on Thursday. “I just love that he comes in and he’s a great singer, great performer. So he leads the boys around that and our culture and stuff like that, him and Richie.
“Codes is talking about what he does on the field and the work rate, but he’s a great man in terms of bringing liveliness into our environment. He’s good.”
“I’m his back-up singer. Codes is the dancer,” Savea joked.
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