Rugby: Seamless shift to No 8 for Ardie Savea

By Campbell Burnes

Ardie Savea on the run against the Melbourne Rebels. Photo / Getty
Ardie Savea on the run against the Melbourne Rebels. Photo / Getty

Playing No 8 will not worry Ardie Savea.

But the presence of two fetchers in the Hurricanes' starting XV will certainly worry the Highlanders tomorrow night.

Reed Prinsep has dropped to the bench, meaning Savea will suit up in the position where he started seven games for Wellington under Chris Boyd straight out of Rongotai College in 2012. He has the skillset to cope and, with the under-rated Callum Gibbins slotting into the openside role, the Hurricanes should beat the visitors to the breakdown punch, though Highlanders No 6 Elliot Dixon may have a different view on that. Former New Zealand Under 20 rep Dillon Hunt will have his hands full in his first start for the visitors.

"I suppose Ardie can play anywhere in the loose trio, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do at No 8 because normally we play six and seven together," says Gibbins.

"We need to be process-focused. Last week we got carried away in a very physical game in trying to get caught up in the rucks, so we need cool heads," he adds, hinting that the Hurricanes allowed the Chiefs to get into their heads somewhat.

Hurricanes coach Boyd does not, naturally, see the Savea shift as an issue.

"I was keen to give Callum a go. He's been really good for us over a number of years. So for Ardie to shuffle to eight is not problematic in the way we play the game. The seven and eight fulfil fairly similar roles for us. Ardie used to play 12 at Rongotai College, so he is multi-talented, as we know,' Boyd says.

How that Hurricanes' loose trio might look for the medium-term is still in the lap of the rugby gods, but it has potential. There is similar versatility to the days of Rodney So'oialo and the late Jerry Collins.

"It depends how long it is before Blade (Thomson) comes back. I though Reed played particularly well in the last couple of games. He is probably, at this stage, more closely aligned to Brad (Shields) as a hard-working, high work-rate, physical No 6, so we are looking for something slightly different in our combination," says Boyd, adding that he is not certain this loose trio will be intact again for their next game, after the bye, on April 1 against the Reds.

The Hurricanes should be favourites to increase the head to head ledger to 16-13 in their favour. Last season, the franchises split their two games, home and away. But the Highlanders will be buoyed by the return of their talismanic skipper Ben Smith. Aaron Smith will be excited to again lock horns with the chirpy TJ Perenara.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Vince Aso, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, Mark Abbott, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles (c), Chris Eves

Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Sam Lousi, Reed Prinsep, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Otere Black, Wes Goosen

Highlanders: Ben Smith (c), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Fletcher Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown

Reserves: Seko Pole, Aki Seiuli, Guy Millar, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Matt Faddes

- NZ Herald

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