Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Julian Savea set to complete resurgence

All Blacks winger Julian Savea in action against Australia last weekend. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks winger Julian Savea in action against Australia last weekend. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Despite a lack of form which has seen Julian Savea struggle to break into the Hurricanes and All Blacks starting XVs, he says his recent run of adversity - surely punctured by his try against the Wallabies last weekend - has nothing on his first full year as a professional.

Savea struggled for both the Hurricanes and Wellington despite the promise 2011 held for the world Junior Player of the Year, who had starred for the New Zealand Under-20s at the world championship in Argentina the previous year.

Somehow his confidence returned and it clicked in 2012. Savea was selected for the All Blacks in the June internationals against Ireland and scored a hat-trick on debut at Eden Park. He has now scored 40 tries in only 44 tests - a record, and only Doug Howlett, Christian Cullen and Jeff Wilson stand above him as All Blacks who have scored more test tries.

So, Savea is a man who has known both triumph and adversity and how quickly things can change.

"I wouldn't say [this is] the hardest year of my career. I would say 2011 was the hardest year," Savea said after being selected in the No11 jersey to play the Wallabies on his home pitch on Saturday.

"It can definitely get frustrating, but you've just got to take it how it is, take it on the chin and just work hard to get back out there," he said.

"I'm really grateful and thankful to get on the pitch. Obviously it's unfortunate for Wise [Waisake Naholo], but I'm glad to get the opportunity and get some playing time.

"I've been training really hard with the team and just focusing on playing rugby and enjoying it.

"It's very hard sometimes - maybe not playing for quite a few weeks and then, when you get your opportunity, you try too hard to impress whoever. I guess that's what I'm trying to get out of my mind."

Naholo's torn hamstring has given Savea the opportunity to make that left wing spot his own again. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen expects Naholo to travel to Argentina and South Africa in late September, and has little doubt the 26-year-old Savea will make it count.

"He gets an opportunity now with Wise injured and I'm sure he'll take that with a lot of enthusiasm," Hansen said. "He's playing at home in front of his own crowd, so it couldn't be better scripted.

"His defence [against the Wallabies in Sydney] was outstanding, and he scored a great try that not many people would have been able to finish off, so those things give him internal confidence."

Savea's pace and power, all packed into a 108kg frame, make him a tough player to defend. And, now that he is fit and his confidence has returned - he gave a nice line about the form of Beauden Barrett, sitting alongside him - he appears ready to make the most of his opportunity.

"He's playing outstandingly," Savea said of Barrett. "Just his speed to beat defenders and glide through defences, it's unreal. Hopefully I get fast like that one day."

- NZ Herald

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