The sub-text to Ardie Savea's début test season has been hard to miss. The All Blacks coaching team love his athleticism, speed, instincts and ball playing, but they feel he has a way to go yet in the physical stakes.

Savea has all the bravery in the world. He puts himself in the right places and does all the right things but at 103kg, he's a fraction lighter than the coaches would like him to be.

They feel he needs to have more weight to be truly effective. And by weight, they mean more lean muscle to bump him up to around 106k-108kg. If he can add that to his frame, then he should become that little bit more prominent and possibly dominant.

He's not there yet which is why he's spent more time on the bench than he has starting this year. Right now he's better suited to the bench where his speed and skills can be his most prominent weaponry in the final quarter when games are more open.


When there is space to exploit, few forwards can do it as well as Savea. He becomes another back when the game is flowing - a link man, linebreaker and finisher.

When he has started, he's played well but struggled just a bit to impose himself over the ball and knock ball runners back in the tackle.

With Sam Cane now fully recovered and Matt Todd having proven himself beyond all expectation in the last few tests, it's not easy to guess how much game time Savea will see on this trip.

It may be though, given his workload already for both the Hurricanes and All Blacks, that Savea is used sparingly on this trip. That shouldn't be seen as a sign of anything other than the coaches being wary of burning out a young athlete.

Cane will presumably take back possession of the No 7 jersey this Saturday against Ireland and the selectors will have to weigh up whether there is room on the bench for a specialist No 7.

They may, in light of the injuries to Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, want a specialist lock as cover on the bench. If they do want another seven on reserve, the selectors will have to decide whether they want to inject the physicality of Todd or the speed of Savea.

Ireland are a bruising team and while Savea brings a point of difference from the bench, there is a risk that because of the probable physical nature of the tests, the All Blacks will still be in a dog fight come the final quarter and need to replace abrasive players with abrasive players.

The coaches also have Savea's longevity to think about. The impacts in test football are huge. The toll it can take on an openside flanker is significant and the battering they take is relentless.

Savea needs more on his frame to act as protection and above all else, greater size, as long as it doesn't compromise his natural gifts, should help him become more confident.

That's his goal on this tour - to make improvements on his work around the tackled ball.

"I'm just worrying about my role as a seven in the team - around the breakdown, being stronger over that and with me getting heavier it will help me move bodies and be stronger over the ball," he says.

The question now is how quickly can he develop what he needs? It has been a work in progress all year but he says it is proving far from easy.

Other players may like his problem - which is he is not prone to putting in weight easily.

"It is hard, somehow I eat so much but still stay the same but I am working on it. I am working hard with the nutritionist and finding ways to put on that weight," he says.