He wears the tribal colours of Canterbury and the Crusaders but a similar shade of red had coursed through the veins of George Bridge when he was attending Lindisfarne College in Hastings.

Bridge took another giant leap in carving a niche in rugby yesterday when he made the 31-member All Blacks cut to compete at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

"I'm so happy for him because he's worked so hard," said Ben Spriggens, a teacher at Lindisfarne College who had coached the 24-year-old boarder from Gisborne when he was a first XV player.

"You look at guys these days and he's essentially a typical Kiwi kid who's worked so hard in his own time and asked for work-ons," Spriggens said, self-effacingly putting it "all down to George here".

Advertisement

He said Bridge had supportive parents and had come through a school that had helped him along the way.

"He wasn't like your Israel Dagg or Tiaan Falcon in fourth form or fifth from."

Spriggens said as a teenager he was "naturally talented in athletics" and "a wonderful hurdler".

"If I'm honest, he wasn't an outstanding rugby player [but] he was a really good athlete so probably late in Year 13 and then he got hooked up in the Canterbury settings."

Bridge was the youngest of three brothers who had graduated from the boys' integrated school. Fellow hurdling siblings Ruie, the eldest, and Henry also were first XV representatives and were equally adept at cricket and touch in summer.

Ruie had locked with Hawke's Bay Magpie Tom Parsons while Henry was an inside back but versatile enough to switch to the wings.

Former Lindisfarne College trio Israel Dagg (left), George Bridge and Hugh Renton who all went on to ply their trade in Canterbury. Photo/supplied
Former Lindisfarne College trio Israel Dagg (left), George Bridge and Hugh Renton who all went on to ply their trade in Canterbury. Photo/supplied

"Interestingly enough, he [George Bridge] never made the Hawke's Bay under-14s or 16s," said Spriggens, revealing Bridge was an "awesome runner with the ball" who had a penchant for scoring tries at the junior grades.

The coach, who relinquished his first XV role in 2015 after nine years, said the then teenager wasn't a big unit but, admirably, had responded to feedback.

Advertisement

"He was always humble and kind of took on anything his coaches asked of him in the junior grades," he said. "He was just so great to coach as a sixth and seventh former when he played his last two years for the first XV."

As a Canterbury under-20 representative he had stayed true to his kitchen-sponge mentality and had invested hours outside the demands of regular training.

"He was such a humble and down-to-earth fellow," Spriggens said, disclosing Bridge as a "character".

Bridge, he said, didn't bank on "natural stuff" to eke out a career through the Crusaders catchment area.

He had followed the well-trodden path of Dagg and former school head boy and Magpie Hugh Renton to the Crusaders.

"We're pretty proud of the guys who have come through but, obviously, we don't have the strike rate that some of the bigger schools have."

Magpies coach Mark Ozich says Brodie Retallick and Brad Weber are not just elite rugby players but also great men who have no qualms giving back to the community. Photo/file
Magpies coach Mark Ozich says Brodie Retallick and Brad Weber are not just elite rugby players but also great men who have no qualms giving back to the community. Photo/file

Magpies coach Mark Ozich said halfback Brad Weber's class was evident in the victory over Otago at McLean Park, Napier, last Thursday.

"He's in great form and it's great he's made that World Cup so he's going to put a lot of pressure on Aaron Smith and TJ [Perenara] which is good for the squad and, hopefully, he'll hit a few runs," Ozich said.

Selecting an injured Brodie Retallick would be valuable in the cup equation so even if he wasn't quite right in the pool stage he would hit his straps in the playoffs.

"If he's ready to go or even if he's not quite ready to go, he's one hell of a player to have," he said of the Magpies lock. "He's a great guy and a massive asset in whatever the role is officially but getting him back for the back-end of the campaign is going to be massive for the All Blacks."

Ozich said Retallick playing for Central Hawke's Bay premier men last season was indicative of where his heart was in the community.

"Most guys don't do that when they've done what he's done in the game but he still comes back home to play for the local club.

"We're very proud of what both he and Brad have achieved and what they will achieve because they are good down-to-earth guys which makes it even better."

Ozich said it was a rousing reward for not just pedigree players but good men.

Lindisfarne College PE and health teacher Ben Spriggens says George Bridge was humble and eager to learn from the time he was a teenager. Photo/file
Lindisfarne College PE and health teacher Ben Spriggens says George Bridge was humble and eager to learn from the time he was a teenager. Photo/file