We are seeing more of George Bower this year. More of him in more ways than one.
With All Black Joe Moody injured and out of the game for a significant period, Bower has become an important cog in the Crusaders machine, getting more game time.
The prop, who can play both sides but is seen as more of a loosehead, has been eating his way through Christchurch, trying to put on weight.
Last year, when he went on the All Black tour of Australia, without playing a game, he weighed in at 111kg — a respectable weight but still somewhat below what is seen to be needed to play in the front row at the top level.
So, Bower, who has played 26 games for Otago, has been packing on the muscle and putting on the beef to get heavier. He has moved up to 117kg and said it is helping in some ways.
"I’m probably not as fit as I was when I was 111kg as I’m carrying that extra weight around. But when you get to scrums and the physical side of the game, it is a real help," he said.
"I’m just trying to chip away at things and put on some weight. Using the gym, and doing a few more sessions to get some more muscle on. I’m eating lots more. I used to have four meals a day but now I’m pushing into five, six, seven meals.
"When you have a high training load, you need to have all that fuel to keep me going. But it hits you. And the wallet."
Bower, who turns 29 later this month, first joined the Crusaders as a wider training squad member at the start of the 2019 season. He managed to get 10 games that season and has slowly become a more important part of the side.
"I’m getting used it and everyone here — feeling more middle of the road than a new player. I’m not an old player either. But you do get more comfortable.
"I still do not talk too much. But when I do want to say something, I will say it."
Bower, who comes from Wellington originally, and first played for Otago in 2014, said watching players such as Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett and the way they prepared for the week was a great lesson for him.
The Crusaders had the bye last week and were now building up for the Super Rugby Aotearoa final, hosting the Chiefs on Saturday.
"You do not get opportunities like this very often, so you want to make the most of it. But we are just treating our week as normal. They’re going to be a side which came hard at you, attack through the breakdown."
Bower was a surprise selection for the All Black squad which went to Australia last year. Although he never got on the field, he said it was an awesome experience.
"Just to be able to meet all the other guys from the other Super Rugby franchises and see how they push themselves. How professional they all are. Appreciate what has to be done to play at that level."
Bower said the goal was obviously to get into the All Blacks but he had to play well for the Crusaders then see what happens.
He was set to head back to Otago at the end of the Super Rugby season, though the paperwork had to be signed off.
His contract was up at the Crusaders and he was keen to stay there.
"But I’m just tossing up whether to buy a house in Christchurch or buy a house in Dunedin."