Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders forced to wait on Savea

Julian Savea of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Julian Savea of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

The Crusaders continue to wait on Julian Savea, with what on the face of it appears a straightforward process - stay with the Hurricanes or move to pastures new - looking increasingly complicated.

It is understood that the Crusaders have offered the 23-year-old All Blacks wing a handsome salary with the help of a third-party deal. However, there is brinkmanship involved - either by the player himself (who is holding out for more money from the Hurricanes) or his current franchise (which is saying go ahead, move if you want, in the knowledge he doesn't want to leave his Wellington roots). Savea is off contract this year.

To complicate matters further, the Chiefs have also emerged as a potential destination for the Rongotai College old boy.

Whichever way it pans out, the Crusaders remain hopeful they will get Savea's signature, but no one at the franchise is prepared (or allowed) to say so.

Savea's finishing quality - 13 tries in 13 tests, including a hat-trick on debut last year - is obvious. The Crusaders would dearly love to add his firepower to a backline which lacks consistent game-breakers and which will be without Dan Carter next year due to his sabbatical.

Wing Johnny McNicholl, who made his debut for the Crusaders this year before succumbing to a serious ankle injury, will be available next season which will help in this respect (he is likely to just miss out on Canterbury's campaign), but the addition of a power-player such as Savea would lend more balance to the Crusaders backline.

So, if Savea says no, the Crusaders will be in the market for another outside back at least.

But while they wait on Savea's decision, the franchise is quietly confident it is building a forward pack which will serve them well for many years to come.

Forwards such as Luke Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Dominic Bird, Joe Moody, Jimmy Tupou and Ben Funnell are all extremely promising. Flanker Todd, who made his All Blacks debut in June in the last minutes of the third test against France, continues to improve even after making his Super Rugby debut back in 2009, while standout lock Bird - all 2.06m of him - suffered the misfortune of tearing his pectoral muscle on the eve of the series against the Tricolours. His place went to Jeremy Thrush instead.

Loosehead prop Moody has been included in a couple of All Blacks training squads this year, while loose forward Whitelock has been on the All Blacks radar for a couple of years, despite being only 22. Hooker Funnell added impact and energy when replacing Flynn. Codie Taylor, another hooker, is also promising but is out of action with a similar injury to Bird's. Both Taylor and Bird will be available for the Crusaders pre-season campaign.

Of that group the oldest is Todd at 25. When placed against their older teammates, proven All Blacks Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, George Whitelock, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, the Crusaders pack looks in good shape for next season.

The trick for Todd Blackadder, though, will be to keep the young bucks happy as he continues to develop them. Once they begin to get game time it becomes an expectation and they can be easily tempted by other franchises if the minutes don't add up to their satisfaction.

One of those looking from the outside is likely to be Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, a former Crusader who successfully tempted All Black prop Ben Franks away last season, a successful move for both player and franchise.

If Savea signs with the Crusaders, Hammett could have a greater motivation to pinch a couple more of Blackadder's forwards.

- APNZ

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