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‘In our eyes…’: Where the All Blacks plan to play world-class Ardie Savea

By Finn Morton
rdie Savea of New Zealand celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's fourth try during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Italy at Parc Olympique on September 29, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

All Blacks fans can expect to see Ardie Savea lining up at the back of the scrum during next month’s Tests against England with Jason Holland revealing the coaching staff see the backrower as “an eight in our eyes.”

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Savea, who was crowned World Rugby’s 15s Player of the Year last October, has proven himself world-class in any loose forward position.

When the New Zealander debuted for the Hurricanes during the 2013 Super Rugby season, Savea went on to start five of 14 matches at openside flanker. For a while, it seemed that was Savea’s best option for club and later country.

Australia, England, Ireland and Italy played against a New Zealand outfit that included Savea at openside flanker during the 2018 end-of-season internationals . But the next year, the Wellingtonian played a bit at blindside before shifting to No. 8.

In the last three years, Savea has started at No. 8 in every Test match that he’s played in. The last time the All Black started at openside flanker for the national team was in the two-point defeat to South Africa on the 2nd of October 2021.

In 2021 and again in 2023, Savea revealed his preferred position for the All Blacks. It’s been a long-lasting debate amongst fans, too, but it seems the decision has been made as New Zealand prepare to usher in a new era under Scott Robertson.

“I think we see Ardie as an eight. Obviously, [Ardie] can do both… but no, he’s an eight in our eyes initially,” Jason Holland said on SENZ’s Bleeding Black.

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“That’s the mix around him being able to play eight and obviously, the youngster Wallace Sititi, being also probably an out-and-out eight.

“Then the other couple of boys, Dalton [Papali’i] and Samipeni [Finau] and [Ethan] Blackadder and [Luke] Jacobson, so good balance there around what we need to beat England.”

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
1
Draws
1
Wins
3
Average Points scored
18
18
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
60%

After being named the world’s best player in 2023, Savea didn’t return to the  Hurricanes this year after taking up a sabbatical in Japan. The loose forward seemed to thrive during an impressive stint with Kobelco Kobe Steelers in Japan.

Before the All Blacks’ squad was named on Monday evening, Savea scored two tries for Wellington club Oriental Rongotai after returning to New Zealand’s shores. It’s worth noting that Savea started in the No. 8 role for the amateur club.

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“He’s a smart man around his body. We think he’s in great nick,” Holland explained.

“He had a club game last week… we had a non-finalists training week last week where we had all the boys in training and he was looking in pretty good nick.

“We’ll be backing Ardie’s experience to understand where his body’s at and be ready to play a Test match in a couple of weeks.”

Ethan Blackadder joins Savea and the Chiefs trio of Samipeni Finau, Luke Jacobson and Wallace Sititi as the loose forwards in the All Blacks’ first squad under coach Scott Roberton.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

7 Comments
M
Massive 24 days ago

I think if they played Ardie at 7 we could, in the future, accomodate a more traditional power 8 which we need against the NH teams and SA. At this stage without having played any tests Sititi looks the goods. Maybe they see him as a 6? but he’s only 1.87m so that would not help our short lineouts.

c
christopher 24 days ago

Lot of people especially blues fans not happy Hoskins missed out. He was outstanding during Super Rugby. Try scoring, tackle busting, skills, strong Lineout option offensively and defensively, strong Lineout and maul defence. The guys a top player, but I think it’s clearly boiled down to not enough or certainly not a high enough work rate when things are going against his team, if you look at the Blues loss at the Crusaders he went missing pretty much, did very little.he had one of the poorest tackle ratios and tackle completion of the Blues back row, not saying his statistics weren’t decent but he definetly missed the most tackles. I remember a couple of seasons back when Jase Ryan went into the All Blacks, I’m sure he made a little comment that Hoskins had to start grafting harder on the other side of the ball, or certainly doing it more regularly because he’s capable of a big turnover or two as we’ve seen this season. He reminds me a bit of what Steve Hansen said about Akira Ioane in 2018/2019. When you watch the Cheifs, Sititi is visible regardless of whether they are on top of a team or even under the cosh. Works his ass off both sides but also has a offensive game similar to what Hoskins brings. I think Razor and his team with their selections are setting the stall out straight away. 2020, 2021 and the first part of 2022 untill Jase Ryan went in, saw the ABs dominated up front, through lacklustre coaching, poor discipline, loyalty in repetitively picking players completely out of Form like Nepo Laulala and Angus Ta’avao etc Laulala at times was an empty jersey for the ABs. Razor and Jase Ryan I think are saying we’re building a front 5 that’s going to meet Ireland, France, England and even the Boks head on, and make them battle for every inch. Ardie got world player of the year in the 8 Jersey, get him behind a pack with more grunt and bigger more athletic but still physical bodies, he’ll shine under Razor in that Position. Every other player picked has been picked on the fact they’ll graft when faced with adversity, back to their feet tackle and repeat repeat. Heard Jase Ryan talk about that a few times when he went in to the ABs . Clear rucks all day and win turnovers when needed. I do feel for Sotutu but Young Sititi no less deserving.

D
David 24 days ago

Now finally the real reason for the selection of Apprentice Sititi and exclusion of the best No 8 in Super Rugby - to accommodate Ardie. The problem, as always, is that Ardie doesn't play like a Classical No 8 and so the other two loosies have to pick up jobs Ardie doesn’t do - the balance is not right.
The Blues and the Chiefs had balanced loose forward sets this season.

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finn 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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FEATURE Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma
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