Savea’s return to form a welcome sight

Date published: September 10 2016

Julian Savea wasn’t perfect against Argentina. When ‘The Bus’ started to rumble though, it was a reminder of what a special talent he is after months of average form.

Perhaps the answer was that he just needed a rest, to get his head right after a frustrating year.

On the field with the Hurricanes his form was poor enough to warrant being dropped, with Jason Woodward preferred on the wing in the Super Rugby final. That was after concerns about his fitness earlier in the season.

Off the field he was one of those players to miss a curfew in Durban, dropped as a result for the fixture the following week against the Reds.

For a time, more was being written about his waistline then his actual play. The comparisons to Jonah Lomu, whilst flattering, also come with an immense level of pressure.

Saturday though was Savea at his bruising, game-breaking best. Argentina left the gate wide open for his try, put on a plate by Aaron Smith, but once he had that score under his belt – his third in his last three Tests – the smile seemed to get wider and wider.

It took a miracle tackle from Matías Orlando to stop him from adding a second, having left Joaquín Tuculet on his back following a hand-off.

The damage done by that break gave Ben Smith an easy run-in on the far side. By the final whistle, he had made over 100 metres and made five clean breaks.

Savea’s record now stands at 42 tries in 46 Tests. What that doesn’t account for is the number of tries he has helped to create by sucking a defence one way or the other, either through his own play or sometimes just by his presence alone.

At the age of 26 he is now four tries off breaking into the top ten for the most international tries ever, where two former All Black greats in Christian Cullen and Joe Rokocoko sit in tenth place on 46.

Should he keep his try-scoring ratio up there’s no question that he can break Daisuke Ohata’s record of 69, but it will hinge on luck with injuries, maintaining his form and where his head is. Questions have been asked about those last two areas repeatedly this year.

When all that clicks though, he is still the phenomenon who marked his debut in 2012 with a hat-trick against Ireland.

And Savea in that kind of mood is good news not just for New Zealand, but for the whole sport.

by Ben Coles