Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Julian Savea in danger of getting offside with coaches


It was almost a year ago Julian Savea signed a four-year contract to stay in New Zealand and with it he became one of the country's best-paid players.

In the 12 months since he put pen to paper, he hasn't been the superhero poster boy New Zealand Rugby rather hoped he would be.

They have made a huge investment in him, believing he had not only the physical attributes to establish himself as one of the great All Blacks wings, but also the mental fortitude and discipline to be a shining light role model.

Their confidence in that assessment is being tested following Savea, along with his brother Ardie, Victor Vito, Cory Jane and Chris Eves, breaking a team-imposed curfew in South Africa.

All five have been dropped for this week's clash against the Reds. "Though some people may not see staying out late as being particularly serious, the team set their standards very high this year and everyone bought into that at the start of the season," said Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd.

"We have a great bunch of guys in the squad and this was an isolated incident but there are certain lines in the sand and when those lines are crossed there are consequences. The players involved know they made a mistake and I'm pretty confident they will be motivated to make up for that when they become available for selection again next week."

Boyd is probably right about four of them but he might have his doubts about the older Savea.

Rugby bosses take these indiscretions seriously. They don't believe anyone can fulfil their potential on the field if they don't have the necessary drive, discipline and application off it.

There's also a deeper consciousness that the conduct and image of the highest profile players has significant effect in influencing attitudes and cultures towards the game overall.

One boofhead player behaving like a goose tends to tar the entire sport with the same brush. Even minor indiscretions undermine the much-loved idea that cultures and attitudes within New Zealand professional rugby teams are exemplary.

Savea, having been trusted to set the right example, is now testing the patience of several people, none more acutely than Steve Hansen's.

The All Blacks coach knows the value of softly-softly when it comes to Savea. Last year, Hansen was understanding when Savea turned up for the Rugby Championship out of shape.

The big wing's conditioning had slipped in the second half of Super Rugby and rather than cut him loose, Hansen worked Savea behind closed doors. For three weeks Savea was at the mercy of conditioning coach Nic Gill and run into better shape.

It wasn't ideal, but Savea got to where he needed to be and he delivered at the World Cup.

That he did was vindication of the All Blacks' supportive culture - where there's this family vibe that drives coaches and players to be forgiving and nurturing. But not forever.

Patience is not inexhaustible and Savea needs to be careful. He was dropped by the Hurricanes earlier in the season for again not being fit enough. Now he's been dropped to play the Reds tomorrow at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

It was a minor infringement but given his history, it firms this picture that Savea is not making the same sacrifices as his peers. He's a bit casual with the self-discipline routine and the All Blacks can't be expected to always forgive him, take him in and fix everything.

The All Blacks can help Savea but to do so, they need to see more evidence the player is willing to help himself.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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