Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Superstar status beckons for Savea

No New Zealand winger has made such an impact in his debut season since Joe Rokocoko, writes Gregor Paul.

By a fraction ahead of Aaron Smith, Julian Savea would take the fictional award as All Black Rookie of the Year in 2012.

The Wellington wing has superstar written all over him. He's big, strong, fast, agile and mentally robust. There's depth to him - still only 21, he's endured plenty in his fledgling professional career and been exposed to a prolonged burst of adversity that could have seen him sink without trace.

Instead, he has established himself on the All Blacks left wing after scoring 10 tries in eight tests. There hasn't been a finisher like him since Joe Rokocoko, who made a similarly impressive impact in his first international season.

Rokocoko scored a world record 17 test tries in a calendar year and was the hottest property in the game. He wasn't so different from Jonah Lomu in that the All Blacks knew that if they could give him the ball, he'd do the rest.

He was only 20 and, by the end of 2003, there was a sense of anything and everything being possible for him.

Rokocoko was electric when he pulled back the throttle. He had acceleration, excellent top-end speed, swerve and well-honed instincts. But, as it turned out, 2003 was maybe the peak for Rokocoko. He remained an All Black until 2010 - a good one - but never quite captured the imagination the way he did in that first year of test football.

That is probably due to a number of reasons. He was free from injury all year. He hadn't been exposed to endless training hours and the inevitable physical carnage, nor had he been over-exposed to the weights room. While a comparison can be made between Savea and Rokocoko in terms of their rookie-season strike rates, that's where the similarities end.

Savea is quick but probably not as quick as Rokocoko. But Savea has a rounded game - a more diverse skill-set that should allow him to continue to develop and impress as he gets older. His try against Scotland - nominated by the IRB for try of the year - is one of the highlights of the tour. He picked up a bouncing ball at full-tilt, swerved, accelerated and brushed off a defender. It ingrained the impression of Savea as a finisher. But his performance that day and the following week in Rome confirmed that he is so much more.

Savea is a quality passer. He is an astute reader of the game and his pick-up early in the movement that led to Liam Messam's wonder try in Cardiff showed incredible agility and skill - as did his miracle pass to Aaron Cruden where he somehow managed to flick the ball off the ends of his fingers.

Savea's pace is important but not critical to his offering - which is probably the key difference between him and Rokocoko at the same age and the reason why the former has also seen off the challenge of Hosea Gear within the current group. Gear and Savea came away uncertain of the pecking order on the left wing but there are no doubts now.

"We thought about a lot of the players and how they are after such a long season," explained All Black coach Steve Hansen in regard to why Savea won the No11 shirt for the final test against England.

"The thought process is that if they recover well, then we would pick the best team and he is clearly the best wing in his position. Cory Jane and he are the two guys on form.

"He got a really good game in Cardiff where he was peppered with high balls - they obviously thought he was going to be weak at that and we scored a great try off one of them and he played a major part in that. He is learning all the time. He is not the finished product but is definitely worthy of starting."

Savea has the chance to cement the left wing berth through to the World Cup - he is that good, an exciting, all-round talent who provides raw power and soft skills to a position which has been filled with varying quality in the All Blacks since 2008.

Hopefully, for Savea, 2012 is a starting point rather than the best we are likely to see.

- Herald on Sunday

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