Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Savea has power to damage England

Julian Savea can instil fear into the opposition. Photo / Getty Images
Julian Savea can instil fear into the opposition. Photo / Getty Images

As England continue to puff themselves up with self-belief, one All Black above all others has the potential to pierce that bubble in the most brutal possible way - Julian Savea.

Coach Steve Hansen will hope his left wing overcomes his knee complaint this week to be fit to play under the roof in Dunedin on Saturday, because not only does Savea have an extraordinary strike rate of test tries - 19 in 20 tests, including a hat-trick on debut - he has the size and strength to be able to make something from nothing.

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Until Conrad Smith scored in the final three minutes of last weekend's Auckland arm-wrestle, both elements were conspicuous by their absence.

The longest Savea has gone without scoring a try is two tests, and that has happened only once - the Rugby Championship tests against Australia in Sydney and Wellington last August.

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He has scored two tries in each of his two tests against England - the defeat at Twickenham in 2012 and narrow victory at the same venue last year.

His final score, set up by a Ma'a Nonu offload, helped the visitors to regain their lead before an Aaron Cruden penalty sealed the win.

Hansen's backline at Eden Park was not notable for its physical presence, Nonu apart. Ben Smith and Cory Jane, are, as Hansen would describe them, "whippets". Savea, meanwhile, is a "beast" - again, the coach's description.

Ben Smith does have the ability to break tackles - and his slightness can mean he is often under-appreciated by opposition defences. Savea, however, looks like a wrecking ball and plays like one. The fear factor he can instil in stressing the opposition can pay off for his teammates.

There is also the balance of a backline which could be without Israel Dagg. Dagg has been carrying a knee problem for the past month which has turned into a thigh issue as well. He didn't look happy at Eden Park but could be given a rest in Dunedin.

A returning Savea would be manna from heaven for Hansen. Ben Smith could swap back to fullback, with Cory Jane swapping from left to right wing.

But if neither Savea nor Dagg are fit, the selectors might want Beauden Barrett at the back, leaving Jane and Ben Smith on the flanks. If Barrett were to start, Colin Slade could be a candidate for a bench place to cover the back three and first-five.

As England weigh up whether to move centre Manu Tuilagi to the wing, to cater for centre Brad Barritt, Hansen must be hoping he is in a position to fight fire with fire.

- APNZ

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