There's no scope to be wise after the event and ask why New Zealand Rugby signed Julian "The Bus" Savea on a four-year contract worth an estimated $800,000 a season.

It was good business and a significant signing that showed New Zealand had the power to keep its best players no matter the global demand.

And Savea, who was 24 when he extended his contract in May 2015, was one of the best players in the world. Maybe even the best. His contract negotiations concluded shortly after he had been short-listed as a World Rugby Player of the Year and in the wake of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen declaring Savea was a better wing than the legendary Jonah Lomu.

Savea had scored 30 tries in 33 tests and there were times in 2014 when it felt like he could do anything - score from anywhere, choosing to run over or around whatever he encountered.


Who didn't think in May 2015 that Savea was destined to become one of the great All Blacks? Break all sorts of try-scoring records and be one of the undisputed stars of the 2015 and maybe even the 2019 World Cups?

But barely a month after signing a deal worth an estimated $3.2 million, it turned out Savea was actually horribly out of condition and in need of remedial fitness work. The All Blacks hid him away for the first weeks of the Rugby Championship, secretly putting him through his own conditioning programme, and gradually returning him to action in time to have a good, if exaggerated, impact at the World Cup.

Savea fell off the fitness wagon again after the World Cup and really, for most of the time since 2015, his story has been one of underperformance, which culminated in him being dropped by both the Hurricanes and All Blacks last year.

A deal that was celebrated has turned into a major headache for NZR. The situation suits neither employee nor employer and the great hope is that everything clicks for Savea in the next few months and he makes a compelling case to earn a test recall.

But if he doesn't, hard decisions loom.

Savea knows his offshore market value will start to drop the longer he remains out the test team. He also knows that if more than 15 months elapse since he started a test, it will become hard to be granted a work visa in Europe.

NZ Rugby don't want such a high earner not performing but if Savea leaves with 18 months left on his contract what sort of message does that send to the international market about the strength of contracts in New Zealand?