Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Savea axing no surprise

Hurricanes' Julian Savea is tackled during the round 15 Super Rugby match. Photo /
Hurricanes' Julian Savea is tackled during the round 15 Super Rugby match. Photo /

The Hurricanes will start the biggest game of their season without the biggest name in their team. Julian Savea, the man hailed as the world's best wing and a better player than Jonah Lomu in 2014, has been dropped to the bench for the quarter-final clash with the Sharks.

The remarkable aspect of that decision is that it comes with moderate shock value. Savea has battled for form all year and delivered little in the way of devastating finishing.

Since he returned from test action in June, under pressure to turn his season around after a mediocre series, he still hasn't played with the consistency or authority that he or the Hurricanes hoped for.

He was quiet against the Crusaders last week. There was the occasional burst, a couple of solid tackles and some tidy work under the high ball. But he didn't get off his wing much, dropped a tricky but catchable pass with the tryline beckoning and never managed to really trouble the Crusaders defence.

It wasn't a disastrous performance, but the Hurricanes have built healthy competition for places, and reputations, however big, aren't enough at this stage of the year to win starting berths.

They are desperate to do what they failed to do last year and claim their maiden title, and with the luxury of choice, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has opted for Jason Woodward on the left wing.

Woodward, a late call-up to the unfamiliar role of centre in Christchurch, played with energy and spark and did enough to earn inclusion somewhere in the backline this week.

With Matt Proctor recovering from his hamstring strain, it was a relatively easy decision to reunite him in the midfield with the powerful Willis Halaholo. That left Boyd with a choice to make between Savea and Woodward and he felt the latter had made the more compelling case.

"We had some tough choices, but we believe we've picked the best team to play the Sharks," Boyd said.

"We've got some real depth and, at the end of the day, we pick the team on form and what we think is best for the team.

"Loni Uhila, Jason Woodward and Willis Halaholo were all very good against the Crusaders and they've forced our hand for this match."

Savea now faces a yet more difficult battle to recover his form and provide the All Blacks selectors with a sliver of confidence that he is rebuilding towards his best.

He's been accused in recent times of trying too hard - something that may be hard to prevent if he's injected off the bench with limited time to prove himself.

But he's fast running out of time and options and his only way back to regular test action is to start playing better - even if it is off the bench.

- NZ Herald

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