Expect the bulk of the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby squad to be Super players within the next two years.
That was the call from Magpies lock-loosie Geoff Cridge after their third round 29-21 Mitre 10 Cup Championship victory against the Otago Razorbacks at Napier's McLean Park on Thursday night.
"The potential in this team is unreal. There will definitely be some more All Blacks too," Cridge replied when asked about the Magpies chances of winning the Championship.
The two-time New Zealand Under-20 representative and one-time world champion agreed the Magpies had the necessary depth to gain promotion to the Premiership this season.
Playing without former All Blacks No 8 Gareth Evans, who was injured, as well as Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u who has yet to play for the Magpies this season the hosts loose forward trio of blindside flanker Cridge, 24, openside flanker Brendon O'Connor and No 8 Devan Flanders was all class.
"Everyone lifted up a gear," Cridge remarked.
With eight tackles and an average gain of 2.50m from his eight carries Cridge had his best game of the season. It was his first outing in the No 6 jersey this season after playing lock in his previous two outings.
"I like the six role more than the locking job but I don't get seen as a six or eight," Cridge said.
He was impressed with the player-of-the-match contribution for the hosts from All Blacks halfback Brad Weber who had an average gain of four metres from his eight carries and beat five defenders. His solo-effort bonus point try in the 57th minute was a cracker and he made 10 tackles.
"It was great having Brad there barking orders. He was invaluable and hopefully he will make the World Cup squad."
Cridge signed a three-year contract with the Hurricanes in 2015 but knee and shoulder injuries in recent seasons resulted in him making just one appearance in 2016. This season he didn't progess beyond the Hurricanes Development side and he doesn't expect to receive a Canes contract for next season.
"I'll be back building at the end of this season. I'm close to becoming fully qualified and there is more to life than footy," Cridge explained.
However when it was put to him he could receive another Super offer if he continued Thursday night's form Cridge said he would definitely consider it.
O'Connor finished the match with 14 tackles and three defenders beaten and an average gain of four metres from his three carries. Flanders had an average gain of seven metres from his eight carries, four defenders beaten, 11 tackles and just one miss.
Magpies head coach Mark Ozich agreed his loose forward trio functioned well and "got through a mountain of work."
"Devan [Flanders] had his best game for the Magpies and was looking like his main mentor [Gareth Evans] with his bursts off the back of the scrum."
While he was happy his troops banked five competition points after taking on a good Otago side he echoed captain and hooker Ash Dixon's comments about the hosts disappointing final 10 minutes.
"We ran out of a bit of gas. Otago were going wide to wide and were starting to find holes."
Ozich was also rapt with Weber's 80 minutes.
"We thought about bringing Folau [Weber's deputy Fakatava] on towards the end. But Otago were coming back and it was good to have Brad's experience out there. When you have an All Black you might as well use him and Folau will get a lot of footy in the coming weeks."
Winger Jonah Lowe who made a strong return from a shoulder injury which sidelined him for the first two rounds injured his other shoulder and Ozich said this was the only serious injury concern after the game. Lowe had an average gain of 12.40m from five carries during his 57 minutes.
Otago did well to score 14 unanswered points during the final 12 minutes but at the same time the Magpies deserve praise for denying them any competition points.
"That last 10 minutes was disappointing from us. If we want to go further we will have to fix that up," Magpies captain Ash Dixon said.
"While I'm happy where we are we know we can be a lot better," Dixon added.
Lock Josh Dickson was a workaholic in the Otago engine room. First five-eighth Josh Ioane was classy for the Razorbacks with 11 carries, nine tackles and seven defenders beaten.
Like Weber, Ioane and Otago hooker Liam Coltman, didn't harm their chances of selection in the All Blacks World Cup squad on Wednesday.
The Magpies also deserve kudos for reducing their missed tackle count by nine to 31 from the previous week's draw against the Wellington Lions. Centre Stacey Ili can be proud of his one miss after having eight against the Lions.
The hosts also did well to reduce their turnovers conceded count by two to 12. Ozich said this count will continue to improve as his troops' execution becomes better.
He gave the squad today and yesterday off to freshen up.
"For the past seven weeks we have been working five and six-day weeks so it will be good to have a break before playing Northland next weekend."
It's a well-deserved break for an unbeaten outfit which has banked 13 competition points out of a possible 15.
The 21st minute sinbinning of Magpies first five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie after referee Mike Fraser ruled he had deliberately knocked the ball down when Otago were on attack. Fortunately the visitors turned the ball over at the attacking penalty.
Turning point: When Magpies halfback Brad Weber put the hosts ahead 29-7 with his 57th minute solo bonus point try. It was always going to be tough for Otago to recover from this deficit.
Player of the match: Weber who made the most of his opportunity to enhance his chances of World Cup squad selection next week.
Scorers: Hawke's Bay 29 (Ash Dixon, Tom Parsons, Danny Toala, Brad Weber tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2, Toala cons; Toala pen), Otago 21 (Jona Nareki, Josh Ioane, Michael Collins tries; Ioane 3 cons). HT: 17-7.