Super Rugby Aotearoa, Round Six - Teams and Predictions
WINGING IT: Having bided his time on the sidelines, George Bridge is finally ready for a run with the Crusaders and will make his return to first-class action against the Highlanders on Friday.
In an added twist to the return, Bridge will run out on the right wing instead of the left, with fellow All Black Sevu Reece dropping to the bench.
It’s a bit of a mix-up for Bridge, who can’t remember the last time he was handed the No.14 jersey.
““I haven’t had the 14 jersey on my back for a wee while but I’m just happy to be out there,” Bridge told media. “I haven’t played in five and a half months so to get a wee opportunity to be on the field is massive for me. I’m really excited.
“[While] I haven’t had the 14 jersey on my back for a while, I’ve had to swap over in the middle of games and stuff like that a couple of times so it’s not too much different.”
Bridge played for the Crusaders Knights development side two weekends ago in his first return to action since suffering from a torn pectoral at an All Blacks mid-week training session during last year’s Tri-Nations competition in October.
“In a defence drill, I sort of got stepped on my inside and slid out going [right] and put my arm out to make a tackle … and it sort of got wrenched back like that and just popped off the bone,” he said.
“Had surgery about a week after I did it and then I was in a sling for six weeks and then it was a pretty slow start because, obviously, it had fully ripped off the bone so they had to drill a couple of holes into it and stitch it back on so had to wait for it to fuse back to it before I could start my rehab and stuff.”
Bridge returned home to Gisborne in early December and by the time the Super Rugby Aotearoa pre-season rolled around, he was ready to get back into properly rehabilitating the injury.
“I’ve sort of just been building every week and getting that muscle back and getting more confident with getting into that [tackling] motion and now it’s feeling 100 [percent],” he said.
“I got through 40 minutes for the development team two weekends ago and felt fine. The whole time I’ve sort of been thinking that sort of [tackling] motion is where it could be an issue but while I’ve been back full-time training for the last month or so, the confidence has gotten a lot better every week.”
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has already struggled to accommodate the riches of talent that he has available in the Crusaders backline this season, with the likes of David Havili, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Reece all jostling for positions in the back three.
In Bridge’s absence, Fainga’anuku has made a name for himself in the No.11 jersey while Havili has slotted into the midfield.
Instead of dropping the relatively junior Fainga’anuku, however, Robertson has seen fit to promote Bridge onto the right wing in a move that the coach hopes will pay dividends for Bridge at the higher level of the game.
“Leicester [Faingaa’nuku] has been superb for us, and we just wanted to make sure we had flexibility in our options in our backs, and to give George the chance to play on both wings because he can play fullback as well,” Robertson said.
“He can show the All Blacks selectors that he’s got utility factor and can play both sides.”
While the Crusaders are undefeated in this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, their opposition on Friday, the Highlanders, haven’t tasted victory since Round One.
Undoubtedly, Bridge will be itching to keep the Crusaders’ perfect record intact.
We take a closer look at each match in Round Six!
Friday, April 2:
Crusaders v Highlanders
(Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch – Kick-off: 19.05; 06.05 GMT)
The Crusaders have won their last seven completed Super Rugby games against the Highlanders, an eighth consecutive win would set the record for the longest winning streak of either side in the history of this fixture.
The Highlanders will be hunting for a second away win this season after logging a come-from-behind win away to the Chiefs in Round Two this campaign, the last time they won multiple regular-season away games against fellow New Zealand opponents was in 2015 (W3).
The Highlanders have scored the opening try of the game in three of their last four away games against the Crusaders in Super Rugby; however, none of those games have resulted in a win for the Dunedin side.
The Crusaders have conceded the fewest clean breaks (7), defenders beaten (18), and offloads (6) per game of any team in the 2021 campaign, they are also the only side to concede fewer than 20 points per game so far (18.3).
Crusaders’ duo Michael Alaalatoa (22) and Sione Havili Talitui (16) have made the most tackles in their own half of any players yet to miss a single attempt in that zone.
@rugby365com: Crusaders by 15 points.
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 George Bridge, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Sevu Reece.
Highlanders: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Scott Gregory, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Paripari Parkinson, 4 Bryn Evans, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ethan De Groot.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 22 Caleb Makene, 23 James Lentjes.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, James Doleman
TMO: Ben O’Keeffe
Saturday, April 3:
Blues v Hurricanes
(Eden Park, Auckland – Kick-off: 19.05; 06.05 GMT)
The Blues have won three of their last four Super Rugby games against the Hurricanes, including two wins in which they had trailed at half-time on the day.
The Blues beat the Hurricanes 30-20 in their most recent meeting at Eden Park, ending a streak of five consecutive losses against them on their own patch.
The Blues have scored 60 percent (9/15) of their total tries in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season via forwards, the highest ratio of any team; in fact, their six tries across their last two games have all been scored by forwards.
The Hurricanes have both won (7) and conceded (12) the most turnovers per game of any team in the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season.
Rieko Ioane (Blues) has beaten 10 defenders within his own half this Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, the joint-most of any player in the competition and more than twice as many as Hurricanes’ best Salesi Rayasi (4).
@rugby365com: Blues by four points.
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson (captain), 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Salesi Rayasi, 10 Orbyn Leger, 9 Luke Campbell, 8 Ardie Savea (captain), 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Tevita Mafileo, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Devan Flanders, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23 Wes Goosen.
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, James Doleman
TMO: Ben O’Keeffe
Source: Tom Vinicombe (@RugbyPass) & SANZAAR
*Statistical information provided by Stats Perform