Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Julian Savea big call for Steve Hansen

Julian Savea is facing a crisis of confidence. Photo / Photosport
Julian Savea is facing a crisis of confidence. Photo / Photosport

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen reckons Julian Savea is maybe just five minutes away from turning his season around.

The Hurricanes wing is fitter, faster and leaner than he's been at any time in his career. Physically, he's in great shape.

The problem is his confidence has been rocked by various factors and, without it, he can't be at his destructive best.

But Hansen believes Savea is the kind of player who can peak and trough in the blink of an eye.

Savea has shown before that he can make miraculously quick form transformations.

He has been horribly out of sorts before. Unable to catch the easiest pass, a shambles under the high ball and more likely to trip over his own feet than beat a defender and then with one perfect execution, he's come storming back to his best.

The inference is clear - Hansen thinks Savea needs to be put on the park with a clear mind, a big pat on the back and comforting words and told to get his hands on the ball and back himself.

If he can do that, beat a few defenders, break a few tackles and remind himself that when he has the ball he can be a deadly presence, then the old Savea will quickly emerge.

The strength of that conviction is going to be tested in Hansen's team selection for the test against the Wallabies in Sydney.

While the Hurricanes have been happy to use Savea on the bench, it's unlikely the All Blacks will be. They have the versatility of Barrett to cover the backfield and are going to need a genuine midfielder in their mix.

So it's a starting role or nothing for Savea and this could be a taxing call for the All Blacks.

They want Savea back to his best and they think they can get him there.

But are they prepared to take that risk in the opening Rugby Championship game? All Rugby Championship games are tough, but this one comes with obvious issues.

The All Blacks will be coming in on the back of one week's preparation - the Wallabies four. Australia are going to be strong, well prepared and they are going to throw the kitchen sink at the All Blacks.

Is this, then, the right game to introduce Savea? The Wallabies will look for any weakness they can exploit and, if Savea is in the No11 jersey, he'll be seen as someone worth targeting. He's low on confidence and they know it.

They will look to target him, to isolate him and put a few early high balls his way to put him under pressure.

All that could break him and the All Blacks understand the risk. But it could also make him. Being asked questions and coming up with answers could be the best and quickest way to kick-start Savea's season.

He's shown before - most notably last year's World Cup quarter-final against France - that he can ignite on the biggest stage. He can respond well to pressure just as he can be a little spooked by it.

It's an intriguing call Hansen and his selectors will have to make and one that could have a significant bearing on the outcome in Sydney.

- Herald on Sunday

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