Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Revved-up rookie Savea set for long haul

Ardie Savea could become a formidable impact player. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ardie Savea could become a formidable impact player. Photo / Greg Bowker

There are few, if any, better impact players in the world than Beauden Barrett but loose forward Ardie Savea showed in the first test against Wales that he could soon be considered near the same level.

In the 20 minutes he played off the bench in his debut test, Savea proved he is comfortable on this stage, that he can play with the same power and explosiveness he does for the Hurricanes, and that he and Sam Cane could prove a formidable partnership in the years ahead.

The world champions don't consider rugby a 15-man game; it's a 23-man game now and, as coach Steve Hansen said afterwards, the challenge for every other nation is to show they have the same depth in their squad as the All Blacks.

As an impact player, the 22-year-old Savea has the ability to replace Cane, or perhaps Jerome Kaino, or even a lock, with Kieran Read moving from No8 to the second row. It all depends on how the All Blacks want to play their hand and in Savea - who has the strength of a forward and pace of a back - they have an ace up their sleeve.

Afterwards, Wales coach Warren Gatland said: "They just keep coming at you. I've experienced that as a player in the past. You're playing against a team that are used to playing at a higher level and they can continue to put you under pressure for longer spells.

"The more you experience that at that level, the better you get, and the more comfortable you get at playing for longer periods.

"It's not a bad bench, is it? They had a bit of firepower to come on. Someone like Beauden Barrett coming on, TJ Perenara - who isn't good enough to make the squad, but he's not bad either at No9. Ardie Savea - I thought he was pretty instrumental when he came on as well. He added some firepower."

Savea, wing Julian's younger brother, has been around the All Blacks long enough to know what is involved. He was taken on the 2013 northern tour as an 'apprentice', as a player seen as being worthy of a black jersey at some stage, but there is always an element of doubt as to if or how those deemed capable make the step up.

There is little doubt about him. One of his most impressive attributes is his leg drive into contact, a determination to keep going, a refusal to be stopped, which is as much physical as mental, and he showed that again at Eden Park. During his time on the field, he carried the ball four times, made four tackles (missing none) and claimed a turnover.

The bottom line is that he got involved; he was willing and able to make a difference as the All Blacks upped the pace and tempo to a level Wales couldn't reach. It bodes well for the future - both his and his team's.

"It was a pretty unreal experience," Savea said. "I can't explain how I was feeling, it just happened so fast.

"The guys around you make your job a lot easier and all you have to do is your job. I was clear in my role and I just tried to do that as best I could."

- NZ Herald

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