Long and winding road leads to ABs

George Bower playing for Otago against Counties-Manukau at Forsyth Barr Stadium last Sunday....
George Bower playing for Otago against Counties-Manukau at Forsyth Barr Stadium last Sunday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
George Bower is a slow burner.

He debuted in first-class rugby in 2014. One match, coming off the bench for Otago in a disappointing loss to Northland on a chilly Wednesday night in front of three men and a dog at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

It looked like he was headed for the scrapheap as he struggled away for Harbour and played some games for Otago B.

In 2018, after losing some weight, he finally got another chance for Otago. He knocked out Don Brighouse for a bench spot and helped Otago win the Ranfurly Shield.

That in turn led to a call-up to some pre-season training with the Crusaders. He stayed the whole season and got on the field 10 times.

After another impressive season with Otago, he was again back at the Crusaders, this time as a fully fledged member of the squad.

He played well for the Crusaders in the shortened season and has become a key part of the Otago engine room.

Yesterday the climb up the ranks took a big leap as he was named in the All Blacks squad to tour Australia for the Tri-Nations series.

Bower (28) admitted he was stunned when he found out about his selection.

"My mind was all over the place. We [Otago] were doing a review of the game and I just could not take anything in," he said.

"It just sort of happened. I can’t describe it really. It is slowly sinking in."

Bower, who can play both sides of the scrum, had been called into the All Blacks as prop Joe Moody is still going through a head injury assessment after picking up a knock on Sunday, while Nepo Laulala is on parental leave.

Bower had made the South team in the North-South match, so he thought he must have impressed someone with his training that week.

He talked to his parents and family back in Wellington after learning of his selection, which was an emotional video call.

"You could see Dad was so happy, you could not wipe this big smile off his face and he was welling up. Mum was all teary and all the relatives were there, drinking some kava as I told them about it."

Bower is of Fijian origin but was born in Wellington and came to Dunedin to be a teacher after he left school.

He admits his journey was not the conventional way to make the national side, although it will not be completed until he gets out on the field in a black jersey.

"It has been a grind really — a long journey and it is not over yet. I’ve been hanging by a thread a few times there. But you get a break, like I did in 2018, and you take it. You reap what you sow.

"It is crazy how fast it has happened. But I think in 2018 I just began to understand more about the game and found the balance between being more mobile and still having enough weight."


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