Underfire All Blacks Richie Mo'unga and George Bridge to start for Crusaders against Blues
Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/news/112951356/-

2019-05-23 04:35:47

Both All Blacks allegedly involved in serious incidents while touring South Africa will start for the Crusaders on Saturday night.

First-five eighth Richie Mo'unga and wing George Bridge have been named in the starting XV to play the Blues at Christchurch Stadium, despite an independent inquiry hanging over their heads.

Both are cooperating with the investigation New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Crusaders asked lawyer Steph Dyhrberg to conduct, after separate incidents in Pretoria and Cape Town the past fortnight.

A couple of days after Crusaders chief executive Colin Mansbridge said both were available for selection, coach Scott Robertson has backed them to perform after a week he described as "a real challenge".

"I have had a number of conversations with them and looked them in the eye. Firstly, from a personal point of view, are they OK? Then I talked to them about their role in the team and they're really keen to play," Robertson said.

"There is no reason that they shouldn't play, from our point of view. And now the process has started in the investigation, it makes them feel comfortable because they can get their point of view out, now they can go and be professional and play rugby."

A woman alleges Mo'unga spat beer at her and her friends in a bar in Pretoria, where the Crusaders beat the Bulls on May 11 (NZT), while Bridge has been confirmed as one of a few players accused of homophobic behaviour and being "physically intimidating" at a McDonald's branch in Cape Town last Sunday morning (NZT).

The players refute the accusations, which came to light on social media, and independent witnesses have reached out to the club and reported no homophobic behaviour was displayed in the second incident.

Regardless, the incidents have dominated headlines since before the team landed back in Christchurch on Monday night, making for a testing week with the crunch stage of Super Rugby looming.

After naming Mo'unga and Bridge in his side, Robertson plans to keep a close eye on them in the coming days to ensure they're mentally good to go.

"It's been tough in a lot of ways," Robertson told media on Thursday morning. "We just want to get our side of the story out.

"One good thing about having this independent inquiry is to make sure we can now step back. It will only be facts now, which we want them to get out. And just be clear that these are just allegations, there's two sides to a story and we've got two great young men in our group and it's been a tough few days for them and their families.

"We feel a lot of it is for no reason at all."

After returning home late on Monday night to find media awaiting them at the airport, the Crusaders met as a squad on Tuesday to address the allegations hanging over some of their players.

Robertson admitted it had hammered home an important reminder.

"It's my role to make sure we're really clear who we are and what we represent. We're role models, we're leaders, people look up to us and we role model ourselves out there in the highest order. It's a clear reminder, that's for sure, that there are a lot of aspects in life where these things can happen," he said.

"But, probably, the first thing to re-emphasise as a group is how tight we are and how much we care about each other and our brothers at this time, making sure we're all OK and know how important it is that we stay strong and be really clear on what we're about."

If the Crusaders are to shake off the controversy and dispatch the Blues, they'll have to do it without All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who missed last week's 19-19 draw with the Stormers after taking a knock to the neck/shoulder.

Read would have been touch and go to play this week, but the Crusaders had already pre-determined he would miss the game due to an All Blacks enforced rest week.

Crusaders: David Havili, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Isi Tu'ungafasi, George Bower, Luke Romano, Ethan Blackadder, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor.

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