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

Ardie Savea: Wellington's new All Black hero

Ardie Savea breaks away for a try. Photo / Getty
Ardie Savea breaks away for a try. Photo / Getty

Ardie Savea is Wellington's new hero in black, and it might not be long before his popularity extends to the rest of New Zealand and beyond.

His star qualities, revealed on the big stage at Eden Park last weekend, shone even brighter in the second test against Wales.

The reception from the Westpac Stadium crowd of 35,000 as he ran on in the 58th minute for Sam Cane was extraordinary and almost certainly unprecedented for an All Black so early in his career.

"Ardie, Ardie", the crowd chanted, and the 22-year-old responded. In his test debut in Auckland he was a powerful figure, particularly with the ball, and he took it to a new level on his home pitch, racing away for a 40m try, the most popular of his team's five on the night.

Hooker Dane Coles, his skipper at the Hurricanes, didn't know what to make of it afterwards.

"He's only played two tests," a smiling Coles said.

Listen: Ian Jones on the Crowd Goes Wild


"He might be Wellington's favourite son. Snakey [Conrad Smith] has gone and no one likes me so Ardie Savea, yeah.

"It's a pretty special moment for him - only his second test in front of his family and friends and scoring a try and the crowd chanting his name."

Jerome Kaino, who provided the pass for Savea's try, called him a "freak", with coach Steve Hansen describing him as a "special player".

Hansen selected Savea as an apprentice on the All Blacks' northern tour three years ago, a prescient move which is now paying dividends alongside some hard work by the player and fitness trainer Nic Gill.

Savea has gone from a quick and skilful athlete to one with real destructive power thanks to the muscle he has packed on. He also has the knack for making things happen and a determination to stay on his feet, despite defenders desperately clinging on.

"I've been happy with the way he's performed, but I haven't been surprised by it. He's been one of the standouts in Super Rugby," Hansen said.

"He's a big man now, and he's developed and matured, and he's a pretty special player."

Kaino said he was sure the attention wouldn't go to Savea's head.

Listen: Nigel Yalden on the Crowd Goes Wild

"Ardie is quite a mature kid for his age," Kaino said. "It's natural for the Wellington crowd to try to get a cult figure now that Conrad has gone - it's good that Ardie has taken that.

"Around the environment he's always asking questions and trying to get better.

"I think he'll be shy about the attention he's been getting.

"He's a freak. Obviously with the sevens background he loves that open play and he has got some speed.

"No one's bigger than the team and when you get back to Monday it's all about the team and how you can improve. If anyone has a big head in this environment you won't last long. I think Ardie understands that."

All of which will beg the question of when Savea will start in the No 7 jersey ahead of Sam Cane and the answer is probably not any time soon. Cane's leadership qualities and combination with Kaino and Kieran Read make him a near certain starter and besides, Savea is such a superb impact player that Hansen is unlikely to do anything to put that in jeopardy.

- NZ Herald

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