Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Hard graft keeps Savea at top level

Winger hones his natural skills with extra work as All Blacks build up for Italy clash.

Julian Savea during the Rugby Championship test match, New Zealand All Blacks versus Argentina Pumas. Photo / Andrew Cornaga
Julian Savea during the Rugby Championship test match, New Zealand All Blacks versus Argentina Pumas. Photo / Andrew Cornaga

Natural skills and talent took Julian Savea into the All Blacks.

Now he is starting to work extra hard to stay there.

It has been a massive year for the 22-year-old who earned his test elevation with a series of stunning matches in Super rugby and is now understanding what being a top rugby player is all about.

Teammate Piri Weepu spoke about trusting his skills and playing his natural game against Scotland. That has been Savea's motto for most of his young career but he is now adding extra layers.

"I try and stay relaxed right through until the warm-up," he said.

"I think I am a bit like Piri as well - just go out and play. I know the game plan, I know what I need to do and then just express myself after that."

Savea has topped up that instinctive sting with a great deal of homework this season.

"I know it is a cliche but talent will only get you so far and if you don't work hard then you will be in the same spot the whole time," he said.

"So I have been working real hard and have this new level of training and doing the extra homework - it doesn't hurt doing an extra 10 minutes. It does help."

Savea has conquered the high ball troubles he had earlier in the season but works hard each week to maintain that improvement.

Now he is looking to get more involved, get more touches in a game, without overplaying his enthusiasm. Tackling, clean-outs, workrate - those are the areas Savea has looked to increase his impact.

Those skills will complement the sort of devastating attack he showed with two tries in the opening tour test against Scotland.

"It is about performing consistently every week and that will come down to my preparation," he said.

Sometimes play did not come his way but when it did he made it count. Patience was a huge weapon for a test player.

"You have got to find other ways, whether it is chasing kicks, tackling and just getting involved where you can."

Savea felt much more at ease now than in June when he was a rookie All Black against Ireland. There was still an edge about every week with his battles with Hosea Gear for selection. Both are likely to play this week against Italy because of injuries to several backs.

The start of the training week in Rome had been about understanding what moves they wanted to use against Italy and reworking some of the mistakes they made against Scotland.

The training field in Rome was a little heavy too so staff concentrated on attention to detail rather than thrashing the players. That would come.

- NZ Herald

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