The staggering highs and lows of Julian Savea's All Blacks career

By Gregor Paul in Chicago

There hasn't been a rugby player quite like Julian Savea. Not in recent memory anyway. Photo / Photosport
There hasn't been a rugby player quite like Julian Savea. Not in recent memory anyway. Photo / Photosport

There hasn't been a rugby player quite like Julian Savea. Not in recent memory anyway.

The typical pathway to stardom in New Zealand rugby is blemish-free. If adversity is encountered by the biggest names in the game it is typically in the form of prolonged injury, not prolonged loss of or fluctuating form.

Savea is not typical. His professional career is in its sixth year and has encountered the most staggering highs and lows.

He was just about out on his feet at the end of his first Super Rugby season in 2011 when he could barely catch the ball or avoid his own feet when he ran. He'd come into that campaign as a World Rugby junior player of the year and it became almost impossible to understand why.

Just as extraordinary was the speed at which he recovered and bounced back in 2012 with a campaign that showed all of his strengths and little of his weaknesses.

It was a campaign which demanded he be included in the All Blacks squad and he announced his arrival in the test arena with a hat-trick against Ireland at Eden Park.

What's been fascinating is that his form has continued on this up and down pattern and yet his ability to score tries has been consistent. No matter the state of his conditioning, form or confidence, Savea has been able to get his hands on the ball and score.

Last year he had to be put on a three-week fitness programme by the All Blacks because they felt he lacked conditioning when he turned up with them after Super Rugby. Because of that, it felt like he didn't really have a great year and yet he played eight tests and scored eight tries.

This year he's had the same issues, but it has taken longer to get him back into form which has been more about his mental state than it has his physical. No one would say it has been a vintage season by any means but he has played eight tests and scored seven tries. He's also managed to break his duck against the Boks and there isn't a wing in world rugby wouldn't kill to have the same strike rate.

It's not such an easy thing to assess how Savea compares with other prominent wings of the past. The likes of Jeff Wilson and Doug Howlett were models of consistency throughout their career, which is why the latter sits top of the all-time try scoring list and the former, for many years was second.

But neither could match the impact of Savea when he's hot. And neither can compare statistically - not in terms of a try scoring ratio. Howlett scored his 49 tries in 62 tests and Wilson his 44 in 60.

Savea, who will his 50th cap at Soldier Field, has already gone past Wilson with 46. He is almost scoring a try a game which is unheard of and makes it a realistic possibility that he will either equal or surpass the all time record on this tour.

As All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of Savea, he's okay under a high ball but not in the same league as Israel Dagg. He doesn't have the same breadth of skills as someone such as Nehe Milner-Skudder or the footballing smarts of Cory Jane.

But Savea seems to have a little bit of everything and then one absolutely priceless skill for which he has no peer - and that is getting himself on the end of moves and crossing the line.

- NZ Herald

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