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All Black's Montpellier 'on the up' before final rerun

PREVIEW: New Zealand wing George Bridge said his Montpellier side are “on the up” before hosting Castres on Saturday in a rerun of last season’s French Top 14 Final.

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Until last month’s win over Clermont, the league champions were without a victory in six matches.

They sit four points from the play-off places with five matches of the campaign remaining.

Montpellier was knocked out of the Champions Cup last 16 earlier this month by Exeter on a try count after extra time despite being down a man for the final 30 minutes.

“We’ve had a few performances we haven’t been too happy with and we feel like we’re on the up now leading into the last few games,” Bridge told AFP on Thursday.

“We’re out of the Champions Cup now so all our focus is leading into the rest of the season and the Top 14.”

Bridge, 28, who can also feature at fullback, arrived on the Mediterranean coast in November, a year after the last of his 19 All Blacks appearances, leaving his Test future in doubt.

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“At the time it was a really tough decision, but I came to the realisation that it was the right time to go and I’d always wanted to come to France to play in the Top 14 and some European Cup games,” he said.

“Montpellier had just won the Top 14 and they had reached out to me, so it seemed too good not to come.”

His former head coach at the Crusaders, Scott Robertson, will take over from Ian Foster at the All Blacks after the Rugby World Cup.

The tournament starts on September 8 as France faces the three-time winners.

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“It’s pretty unreal that it’s been finalised and allows Fozzy (Ian Foster), who I got on with really well, to focus on this year because there’s the World Cup,” Bridge said.

“There was a bit too much chat going on back home, so it’s good that it’s finalised and everyone can focus on supporting the team and Fozzy leading into the World Cup.”

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‘Gritty’ Castres

This weekend Montpellier, backed by Syrian-born billionaire and France’s main sponsor Mohed Altrad, welcome a struggling Castres.

The visitors have lost once and won twice since ex-British and Irish Lions lock Jeremy Davidson replaced the sacked Pierre-Henry Broncan as head coach in February.

“The final hasn’t been mentioned too much this week,” Bridge said.

“We know where we stand in the table and we need to put a performance in so that we can keep going up the table.

“They’re a gritty team as well but we’re really up for it.”

Elsewhere, Clermont will be without Australia centre Irae Simone for the trip to Pau after he was banned for three weeks for a high tackle.

Another Wallaby in lock Will Skelton will be missing with a concussion as La Rochelle host Bayonne three weeks away from the Champions Cup semi-final with Exeter.

Wales back-rower Ross Moriarty could make his Brive debut as the team at bottom of the table welcome third-placed Stade Francais.

League leaders Toulouse, also in this month’s Champions Cup last four where they head to Leinster on April 29, finish off the weekend by facing Lyon.

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