It's almost five years since Ardie Savea was taken into the All Blacks as an apprentice, confirming the national coaches could see what everyone else could that the 19-year-old was destined to become a star of the international game.

That certainty is now fading and given that he's only re-committed to New Zealand for one more year, is it possible that Savea has also started to doubt that his future looks as promising as it once did?

He has left the door open for offshore clubs to chase him in World Cup year and while that may be only with the intention of trying to boost his market value in New Zealand, it could just as easily be because at the age of 24, he's now seriously considering a shift to Europe in 2020.

Does he sense that the probability of becoming a regular in the All Blacks No 7 jersey looks decidedly less now than it did two years ago when there were 35,000 people in Wellington, chanting his name, demanding he be brought off the bench to finish the Welsh?


Back then he had an army of people convinced he was the best openside in the country - a more dynamic and higher impact player than Sam Cane.

It was a stretch to buy that argument but there is no question there wasn't as much between the two of them as there now is and maybe Savea has looked into the future, concluded the best he can hope for in the next few years in New Zealand is a bench role with the All Blacks and that isn't stoking his fires.

Ardie Savea scores a try and celebrates with Sam Cane. Photo /
Ardie Savea scores a try and celebrates with Sam Cane. Photo /

Cane has become the country's unanimous choice as the best No 7, having proven himself in the past two years with world class defensive performances. Savea, on the other hand, is battling to prove he's even the second best openside with the erstwhile Matt Todd regularly picked ahead him of last year.

Savea maybe hasn't regressed as a test player, but he has stalled. He's not moved discernibly closer to being the sort of openside the All Blacks need him to be.

They, like everyone else, love his speed, his agility, his all round skills and recognise that his leg drive into contact is stunning.

But the All Blacks need their seven to be dominant over the ball. They need their openside to be able to steal possession even when there are 120kg locks pounding into them, or 135kg props trying to wipe them out.

The physicality and presence of their seven has to be obvious and effective and while Savea plays with his blood hot and head cold, in the two years since he made his debut, test rugby has shifted under his feet.

The collisions have increased in volume and intensity largely because, seemingly in no time, most players at that level have become heavier and more explosive.

Typically opensides are now around 108kg-110kg - as they have to be to hold their body position over the ball and to knock ball carriers off their feet.

Savea, as much as he has tried, hasn't been able to get himself or keep himself at his target weight of about 105kg.

It's not that the All Blacks are obsessed with him holding that weight, but they do need to believe he has the ability to be dominant for 80 minutes.

And it is that bit they are not sure of at the moment. Cane has become such a physically abrasive force in test football while Savea is still struggling to impose himself.

The All Blacks coaches will be reassuring him he has time to mature, but young players don't always have that desire to be patient.

New Zealand Rugby should be wary as Aaron Cruden found himself in a similar spot in 2016 when he weighed up another two years sitting on the bench behind Beauden Barrett or $1.2 million a season from Montpellier and chose the latter.

Lima Sopoaga came to much the same conclusion this year, seeing not only Barrett blocking his path but Damian Mckenzie and Richie Mo'unga coming up fast in the rear so he opted to join Wasps.

Based on where he was in 2016, it would have to be considered an extraordinarily poor outcome for the national union to not have Savea locked in beyond the next World Cup.

But based on what has happened in the past two years, a one-year extension may be a fair outcome for both parties.