COMMENT

Not quite enough fuss has been made of the fact that Ardie Savea is staying in New Zealand until at least 2021.

It's a big deal that he's not going to be leaving after the World Cup next year.

A really big deal because Savea has the potential to be a sensational test footballer.

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He can change the way the All Blacks play - make them a better team.

He was starting to show that this year when he enjoyed a run of tests where he was able to marry his raw athleticism with an abrasive physicality.

That's the combination he's been searching for since he broke into test football in 2016.

That's the combination the All Blacks coaches have been patiently waiting for him to deliver, hoping more than knowing it was within him.

He has proven he can stand over the ball as literally a tonne of flesh tries to sweep him out the way.

All Black Ardie Savea celebrates his try during against the Springboks in Wellington. Photo / Photosport
All Black Ardie Savea celebrates his try during against the Springboks in Wellington. Photo / Photosport

He has proven he can knock men backwards with his tackling.

And when he scored the winning try in Pretoria in October this year, he has shown his leg drive takes him forward against the biggest men in world rugby.

And now that he has opted to reject a deal to go to Pau and instead stay in New Zealand for another two years, he has opened the prospect of him becoming one of the great, All Blacks opensides.

The All Blacks have tended to be at their best when they have players who redefine what is possible, or at least bring to the test arena skills and abilities that set them apart.

Savea is in this elite category of being different: of being in possession of a skill-set that is uniquely his.

There are plenty of good No 7s in world rugby but probably none can match Savea for pace and agility.

Sam Underhill had a belting game for England against the All Blacks in November but it would be a surprise if he proves over the next 12 months to have the same comfort in open spaces as Savea.

His mesmerising run to score the try that never was at Twickenham may end up being an aberration rather than the norm of what he does when he has the ball.

Savea, on the other hand, seems to only know how to do the unconventional when he runs. He can't help but let his football instincts kick in and do something that few expected.

Pass and catch is his thing and this is why he was taken to Europe as an All Blacks apprentice in 2013 when he was just 19.

Coach Steve Hansen knew that if Savea could add graft and grit to his game the package would be devastating and so, five years on, we all see that he was right to be bold in backing the youngster and even more right to be patient.

If Savea had headed to France after the World Cup as he seemed fully intent on doing six months ago, it would have been a tragic waste of talent.

Savea, probably more so than Sam Cane, has the ability to leave an indelible footprint in All Blacks' history.

And maybe most interestingly Savea has the ability to change the direction of Cane's test career.

Sam Cane is recovering from a fractured neck. Photo / Photosport
Sam Cane is recovering from a fractured neck. Photo / Photosport

Cane is tough. He's selfless, he's determined and he's probably the best defensive player in New Zealand.

He's the sort of player that the All Blacks need: the sort of player on which their continued excellence is built and no one should forget for a second that he too is going to have a long and storied All Blacks' career.

But Cane's skill-set and attributes, while nonetheless invaluable, are more stoic than spectacular when compared with those of Savea.

Cane is more of a player's player: Savea more of a fan's player and at the moment, or at least once the former returns from his neck injury, the All Blacks have to choose between the two.

For the last three years, they have worked as a combination with Cane mostly starting and Savea coming off the bench. They are a one-two openside punch.

But perhaps in 2019, the nature of their combination will change.

Perhaps we will more regularly seem them used in tandem - not from the start of tests, but instead of Cane making way for Savea in the final quarter, maybe we will see the latter come on earlier with the former shifting to blindside to accommodate the change.

The World Cup, on what are likely to be mostly dry, hard tracks, seems like it should heighten the prospect of having both Cane and Savea on the field in the final quarter.

The tackled ball area at the World Cup will be crucial and how much would the All Blacks like to being playing at a high tempo in the final 20 minutes of big tests in Japan?

With Savea and Cane in tandem, they can do just that - keep going wide and avoid being sucked into those tense, staid thrillers that World Cup knockout games often become.

Potentially, although this is possibly a step too far this year, we may even see Cane start a test or two at blindside.

His skill-set is suited to it.

He's not quite as big as the likes of Liam Squire, Vaea Fifita or Shannon Frizell, but he's big enough to cope with the demands of the role.

It's difficult to see Cane making a permanent conversion to No 6 a la Michael Jones but it is possible to see him playing the odd game there and certainly shifting into that role during a game.