ABs se­lec­tion isn’t a Bridge too far

The Press - - Sport - Paul Cully

Ge­orge Bridge ran 76 me­tres more than Is­rael Fo­lau on Satur­day night but no-one is talk­ing about it be­cause Bridge isn’t on a mis­sion to save all our souls.

That’s the story of Bridge’s sea­son. He’s scored eight tries and is en­joy­ing a break­out cam­paign but barely a word has been spo­ken about him as far as the All Blacks go.

There should be. Left wing, right wing, full­back – he cov­ers the lot.

He has a good boot on him, se­ri­ous pace and an un­canny abil­ity to beat the first tackler. There is a smidgen of a younger Ben Smith about him – and that’s im­por­tant.

When the All Blacks iden­tify the next tier of tal­ent they do so with the knowl­edge of what works for them.

Need an­other Aaron Smith? Let’s look at Te Toiroa Tahu­ri­o­rangi. Jerome Kaino can’t go on for­ever? Liam Squire has that de­sire to in­tim­i­date. Who can fill the Beau­den Bar­rett 10/15 bench role? Damian McKen­zie looks like the man.

But there seems no ob­vi­ous can­di­date to fill the Ben Smith role – full­back, both wings – and this is where Bridge comes in.

You could ar­gue Nehe Mil­ner­Skud­der is an­other op­tion but the All Blacks have been cool on him as a full­back and as for Jordie Bar­rett, for all his spe­cial tal­ents, is he an op­tion to start on the wing in a test match?

All of this may be aca­demic. The All Blacks might only go for four out­side backs and five mid­field­ers and use McKen­zie as back-three cover but if, for ex­am­ple, they do not carry Tahu­ri­o­rangi in the squad then Bridge’s name should be in the mix.

There will be howls of com­plaint from Wellington. But Ben Lam is not com­pet­ing for a spot with the likes of Bridge or Mil­ner-Skud­der.

His ri­vals are Rieko Ioane and Waisake Na­holo. It is why he faces per­haps the hard­est chal­lenge of any­one to make the squad.

If a spot opens up in the back three it will be for a ver­sa­tile player, the full­back/wing port­fo­lio so ably oc­cu­pied by Is­rael Dagg un­til his knee prob­lems.

The other name here is Chiefs wing Solomon Alaimalo. He is a tal­ent. But for now is he stronger as a wing than at No 15?

It’s pos­si­ble that Bridge just runs slightly bet­ter lines from full­back than Alaimalo. He caused the Waratahs huge prob­lems with his abil­ity to pop up on the shoul­der of ball-car­ry­ing for­wards.

He is far from the fin­ished ar­ti­cle, of course.

He could have run a much more ag­gres­sive sup­port line when Seta Ta­mani­valu scored his try. It would have (legally) blocked Fo­lau’s ac­cess to the big Fi­jian wing as the Waratah at­tempted to tackle him into touch. But it will come with ex­pe­ri­ence.

As for his de­fen­sive work, do not con­demn Bridge for last year’s in­ci­dent when Waratahs gi­ant Taqele Nai­yar­a­voro al­most bounced him into the stands in Syd­ney.

In 2018 he was faced with a sim­i­lar chal­lenge, when the Rebels No 8 Amanaki Mafi lined him up in Mel­bourne. This time Bridge stood his ground.

Are the All Blacks in­ter­ested? I think they are hav­ing a look.

When they played the Bar­bar­ians last year the Ki­wis in­volved with the in­vi­ta­tional side ap­peared to be play­ers of na­tional in­ter­est.

Richie Mo’unga was there, as was Mitchell Drum­mond, Dom Bird, Luke White­lock, Atu Moli and Vince Aso.

And Bridge was there too, scor­ing two tries from the wing. Even if he does not make Sun­day’s squad, his is a name not to dis­count.


Ge­orge Bridge has scored eight tries this sea­son, this one against the Storm­ers.

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