Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Talent waiting in wings to take over from off-form Savea

What to do with Julian Savea. Photo / Getty Images
What to do with Julian Savea. Photo / Getty Images

Over to you Steve Hansen. That oval ball has been tossed back in your lap for the Rugby Championship.

What to do with Julian Savea.

Where once it was an occasional topic it is an ever-present discussion point as the Hurricane and All Black left wing struggles for form and battles his reputation as the public, his franchise and the national staff debate his uncertainties.

He's on the bench tonight at the Cake Tin watching an occasional wing Jason Woodward pull on his No 11 jersey to do battle with the Sharks.

When the Canes needed all their big-name players to step up and make amends for last year's epic final loss to the Highlanders, Savea has taken a sideline seat.

It's been that way for much of this season after Savea came home as one of the celebrated giants of the game at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. In that tournament he reproduced his venom and all-round game which made him one of the most dangerous wings on the planet.

Past tense. This year has been mediocre for the 43 test wing. He's been demoted three times by Chris Boyd at the Hurricanes and was given a reprieve by the All Black selectors that he scarcely justified. But the national coaches backed their instincts and reparation skills.

Usually they have been spot on. Not in June, not with Savea. He got 40 minutes in the opening test with Wales and was subbed, was bypassed for the next test and then reinstated for Dunedin where he did not look comfortable from the kickoff.

If Nehe Milner-Skudder was fit and others were striking a brighter flame for All Black inclusion, Savea would struggle to make the next test squad. Perhaps George Moala has piqued the panel's interest as a wing, maybe Woodward will make a special late run.

Savea has had a fair go. He's 26 next month and has played 43 tests so he knows what rugby at the top level is all about. He benefited through injury and the compassion of the All Black selectors in June but there has been a negligible improvement. His awkward production and workrate reflects his unease.

I'll dismiss talk about Savea suffering because he is trying too hard. I'd expect every top player to try their best and if they were not prepared to do that then they should consider another career. Form does waver and there can be many obvious reasons and lots of unseen underlying causes too which impact performance.

There are alternatives. Try two from the Chiefs. The irrepressible Damian McKenzie who has soaked up the All Black wisdom in a month of training in June or James Lowe who has a sackful of talent and would benefit from similar instruction. They've been doing the business. Then there's Melani Nanai who was supposed to be a wing utility with the Blues, has been in great nick at fullback with the pace and skills to switch to the wing.

Beauden Barrett would bring more snap and polish on the wing and could also create an extra layer as a roving receiver. There are options while the only one for Savea is to find some form somehow, and now.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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