Pat McKendry: Savea back in fold but must heed lessons

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Julian Savea. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
Julian Savea. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Julian Savea's weight problems, which have caused him to be dropped and recently brought back into the fold by Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, will be a concern for the player and the franchise but also All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

Unfortunately, all parties have been here before. Last year, as the Hurricanes eased their training load during the latter stages of their road to the Super Rugby grand final against the Highlanders, Savea's weight went on the rise, due to, apparently, a lack of physical activity and less than optimal diet.

It affected his form and the All Blacks responded by not selecting the wing with one of the best strike rates in world rugby until the third match of the Rugby Championship - against Australia in Sydney.

It was decided that the now 25-year-old needed a wake-up call - and a gruelling three-week fitness regime with All Blacks trainer Nic Gill - in order to get him in the best possible shape for the Championship and All Blacks' World Cup defence, and he didn't disappoint in the latter, scoring a hat-trick of tries in the quarter-final victory over France in Cardiff in a performance which once again led to comparisons with Jonah Lomu.

Unfortunately the lessons haven't been learned. Boyd was forced to drop Savea for the Southern Kings match in Wellington a fortnight ago but after seeing him put in the requisite fitness work since, including during the team's recent bye weekend, the 106kg wrecking ball who has scored 38 tries in 41 tests will play against the Jaguares in the capital on Saturday.

"We gave other people opportunities to play last time and he had a set of work to do over the last 10 days and I think by and large he's done really well in that space and he's looking good," Boyd told the media today.

Boyd and Hansen will hope Savea stays that way and that the player isn't relying on Gill to get him in shape. The No11 is set to play a big part for the All Blacks in the three tests against Wales in June if he remains injury free because, firstly, he is one of the best in the world at what he does when in peak fitness, and, secondly, the selection of right wing is looming as an issue.

Nehe Milner-Skudder, brilliant at the World Cup, is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder problem suffered in his team's round three victory over the Blues at Eden Park, and Highlander Waisake Naholo is recovering from a broken leg suffered at the same venue in round one.

Naholo will come into the frame if he gets enough game time - and, while an update from the Highlanders today wasn't forthcoming, initial estimates suggested he would be due to return in a fortnight.

The other options would be a return for Cory Jane, who will play his 100th match for the Hurricanes on Saturday, Highlander Patrick Osborne, or James Lowe, who is in stunning form for the Chiefs.

Hansen will already be forced to go to a new midfield following the departure of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, so the last thing he needs is an unfit Savea thrown into the mix. Savea would do well to heed the warning; the alternative could be uncomfortable.

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