Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Ardie was ordained to be star, says Julian

Springboks pose biggest test for younger Savea who showed talent from early age.

Big brother Julian Savea has long known that little brother Ardie was destined to be something special.

The signs were obvious from as far back as Julian can remember. What struck him as unusual was that there was a four-year age gap between them and yet Ardie would be out on the field with him every week when they were kids.

"There wasn't a particular game but just the fact he kept playing on my team which was about three years older than what his age was," says Savea senior of when he first realised the talent his younger sibling possessed.

"That said it all itself really. We were under-10s and he was probably about 5 and he always got on alongside me for maybe 30 minutes and was tackling some big boys. I knew he was going to be something special - he did tackle harder than a 5-year-old would if you know what I mean."

It has been the story of Ardie's career - wherever he's played, he's been impossible to ignore.

It was like that when he was at school.

Herald experts Gregor Paul and Patrick McKendry

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He made the Rongotai College first XV when he was in Year 10 and went on to play more than 50 games. That earned him selection and captaincy of the New Zealand Schools team and by the time he was 19, he was a regular in the Wellington provincial side.

He could have suffered from being known as Julian's younger brother, but such has been his impact wherever he's played, that no one sees him like that because it's been all so apparent that he was going to carve out a career every bit as impressive. And maybe that's been important in helping him forge his own path and establish his own identity - they may be brothers yet they are vastly different people and athletes.

Even at school, Ardie's dedication to hard work was of note. He would be in the gym three times a week and never had to be put right on the old mistake of thinking talent alone would get him where he wanted to be.

As gifted as he is, the younger Savea has never taken anything for granted. His pace and explosive leg drive are only partly natural attributes. Both have been bolstered by his endless devotion to strength and conditioning programmes, which has seen him add almost 10kg to his frame since he first played for Wellington as a wiry 19-year-old.

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It's that appetite and desire to search for the little extras that has so impressed his peers.

"Every time Ardie puts on either an All Blacks or a Hurricanes jersey, he leaves it all out on the field," says Beauden Barrett.

"I have seen him progress as a young fella coming in to the Hurricanes and now his first start, he's come a long way. He's always had that work ethic and that freakish strength we see in his ball carrying. He definitely punches above his weight."

Savea's ability to physically surprise will face its toughest examination this Saturday. His character is going to be tested to the full to see if he can impose himself against players who can't match him for skill or speed, but do possess more size and grunt.

Staying strong over the ball and being dominant with his defence are the core tasks he's been asked to focus on and while he's played Super Rugby finals and come off the bench for the All Blacks, starting a test against the Boks is arguably the toughest challenge facing any forward in world rugby.

"The size of the blokes for a start," says All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on why playing the Boks will be considerably harder than anything Savea has yet faced.

"While Super Rugby has got a lot of the similar people, a national team has got a collective group, so [it's] the best of the best.

"South Africa are a team, while they may not be getting the results they would like, when you look at them on paper, they are a good side.

"Backs against the wall, they will be hungry, so it will be two or three steps up from where he's been but we are confident he will manage it."

- NZ Herald

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