ABs selection isn’t a Bridge too far
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.