Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Beefed-up Savea primed to take his game to next level

Ardie Savea is expected to be in the Canes' starting side against the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images
Ardie Savea is expected to be in the Canes' starting side against the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images

Ardie Savea's apprenticeship is over.

After spending most of his first season as a full-time Super Rugby player making up the numbers at training last year that will change in 2014.

Part of it is due to circumstance and part of it is because Savea's development demands it.

After copping a four-week suspension for a tip tackle in last year's pre-season, he made three appearances for the Hurricanes before he travelled to South Africa to captain the New Zealand under-20 side at the junior world championship.

Savea then toured Europe with the All Blacks at the back end of last year as an "apprentice", as coach Steve Hansen tried to familiarise the 20-year-old with an environment he seems destined to be a card-carrying member of in the future.

He also clocked in with another barnstorming ITM Cup campaign for Wellington, but now has to show his game can cope at the next level.

The Hurricanes will be without loose forwards Victor Vito and Brad Shields for the first six weeks of this season, which means Savea is a likely starter in the No7 jersey to begin the year in a makeshift loose trio.

"It's quite unfortunate to have Vic and Brad come out with injuries but we've still got quality loose forwards to cover that and whoever that is I think the boys can do what's expected," Savea said.

One of the major concerns Savea had coming in to last year's Super Rugby campaign was his lack of size given his tender age, but he is bigger in 2014 and has got himself to a point where he is comfortable.

Given the Hurricanes open their campaign on the road with games against the Sharks and Stormers, he won't be able to shirk any confrontations at the contact area.

"Let's just say I'm not as worried as what I was before with my physicality but this will be a true test, especially in South Africa over the next two weeks, so I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said.

Savea may only be in his second season of Super Rugby but he's a noted leader within the squad and said his teammates wanted to know his take on the game.

"For me, it's more about speaking my mind and sharing my thoughts because a lot of the players advised me to," Savea said.

"So coming from the All Blacks environment, you learn a lot of knowledge so the biggest thing for me is trying to share that knowledge with the other guys in the team and help them any way I can."

While the All Blacks were in London last year, Savea shared a taxi with Richie McCaw and Kieran Read on their way to dinner one night but said they didn't discuss the finer points of the breakdown.

As for the specifics around what he did glean from the likes of fellow opensides McCaw and Sam Cane on the trip to Europe, Savea offered: "I think just knowing what is expected of a No 7 and of yourself and going in to this [Super Rugby] campaign I feel more confident and if I do get the opportunity this year I'll be very excited. Last year I was really nervous and on the edge but I can't wait."

Savea won't have to wait long for that opportunity as he seems destined to start for the Hurricanes when they open their season against the Sharks in Durban on Sunday morning.


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