Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Julian Savea on the reserves bench, for now

All Black wing Julian Savea will hope to get game time off the bench in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images
All Black wing Julian Savea will hope to get game time off the bench in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images

Julian Savea, disappointed to be selected on the reserves bench for the Hurricanes during the Super Rugby playoffs as his team won their maiden championship, faces the challenge of regaining his on-field confidence for the All Blacks from the same position.

Savea has been named on the bench for the opening Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Sydney tomorrow, the All Blacks coaches going for Waisake Naholo, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith as their back-three option rather than the man with one of the best try-scoring rates in the game.

Whatever the explanations given to him by the coaches, Savea's demotion will hurt, because it is an unfamiliar position for the 26-year-old in terms of the national team. In 43 tests, he has been named on the bench only twice -- against the United States in Chicago in 2014 and against Scotland at Murrayfield a few weeks later.

It remains to be seen how many minutes Savea gets on the field at ANZ Stadium.

The media were told a fortnight ago by All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster that Savea needed a chance in order to regain the form which made him a standout at the World Cup. Much will depend on injuries and, with the All Blacks not having any midfield cover on the bench, they will need to shuffle their resources carefully.

It is a pragmatic selection by Steve Hansen and his assistants, but there remains an element of risk in naming Naholo on the left wing in Savea's place. Dagg's sparkling form in the last two tests against Wales in June has earned him the No15 jersey, with regular fullback Ben Smith, one of the best in the world in that position, named on the right wing.

Naholo is capable of the spectacular, but isn't immune to mistakes, while with Savea, you generally know what you are going to get; a safe pair of hands. An excellent cameo could see Savea back in the starting XV for the return encounter on his home pitch in Wellington seven days later; a difficult night could see his challenges continue.

With Hansen probably more reluctant to change a winning team, defeat for the All Blacks is probably Savea's best chance for a start at Westpac Stadium, and given the firepower named in the Wallabies backline, that is entirely plausible.

The world champions coped relatively comfortably with the absence of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith in the three-test series against Wales in June. But, after their struggles against the Wallabies last year and the unavailability of midfielders George Moala and Sonny Bill Williams, plus hooker Dane Coles, this is a different challenge entirely.

- NZ Herald

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