Patrick McKendry: Julian Savea must start in final

Julian Savea of the Hurricanes runs with the ball during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Rebels and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.
Julian Savea of the Hurricanes runs with the ball during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Rebels and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.

Julian Savea has played a total of 36 minutes for the Hurricanes over the past two weeks but for his sake - and more importantly his team's - he must start on the left wing against the Lions in Saturday's Super Rugby final.

For all of Savea's finishing power and try-scoring feats for the Hurricanes and All Blacks, it would be an unpopular selection for some, because he has been out of form for much of the season and even failed to fire against Wales in June (he didn't play in the Wellington test but did in Auckland and Dunedin).

It would also be tough on Jason Woodward, who has been in brilliant form since he helped the Hurricanes cut the Crusaders to pieces in the unfamiliar position of centre during the final round-robin match and who has been equally good in the No 11 jersey against the Sharks and Chiefs.

But it would be a criminal waste of Savea's game-breaking ability to continue to keep him on ice. He played only the last seven minutes against the Chiefs last weekend - he would have come on 10 minutes earlier but for the sinbinning of Cory Jane, the man he eventually replaced.

Now the Hurricanes are standing on the brink of glory, he should be used from the start to push them over it.

Savea is apparently in the shape of his life after struggling with his weight and fitness earlier in the season. He is also a big-game player. Remember the week of angst among All Blacks supporters heading into the quarter-final against France at the last World Cup?

Like the majority of his teammates, Savea responded with one of the games of his life in scoring a hat-trick, including a try just before halftime when he bulldozed through three would-be defenders and settled the nerves of the coaching panel, as well as those back home. It was an inspired act of aggression and intent that few others would have attempted let alone been successful at.

For the Hurricanes, games don't get any bigger than this one against the Lions. The men from Wellington came up short last year against the Highlanders and a similar lapse would be devastating against a team who have travelled from Johannesburg and will be rank outsiders. South African teams traditionally struggle against teams who give them an early taste of physicality and power and, as strike weapons go, they don't get a lot bigger or more explosive than the 25-year-old Savea.

A start for him would also be a personal boost before the All Blacks first test of the Rugby Championship against Australia in Sydney on August 20. Coach Steve Hansen has already made it clear he won't lose faith in Savea, who has scored 39 tries in 43 tests, including eight tries in six matches at the last World Cup.

He is likely to start in that first test against the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium and, having had the backing of Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, could significantly help his confidence.

That won't be at the top of Boyd's priority list, and fair enough, but Savea just needs a chance. If he gets one, he's unlikely to disappoint.

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