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The All Black who should be 'in the conversation' for world's best

By Finn Morton
Ardie Savea. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Six-time Super Rugby champion Bryn Hall believes Ardie Savea must be “in the conversation” for World Rugby’s Men’s Player of the Year after another phenomenal performance against Wales.

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Savea simply does the black jersey justice every time he takes the field, but his standout display at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium might’ve been his best Test of the year so far.

Returning to the Test arena for the first time since New Zealand’s 26-point win over Australia at Eden Park, Savea was instrumental in another dominant All Blacks victory.

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The star loose forward had the most carries of any All Blacks player on the night, ran for the equal-most metres of any forward, made 10 tackles without missing any, and of course scored a try.

But watching Savea play, it’s frightening how dominant and destructive he can be in attack or defence, as he regularly causes havoc for opposition players.

While the All Blacks have had a mixed season, which has included historic losses to Ireland and Argentina, Savea has had a powerful presence about him irrespective of any result.

After performing at a consistently high level for a number of years, Hall said the Number Eight is “staking his claim” for rugby’s highest individual honour with his performances at the moment.

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“If he’s not in the conversation for the best player in the world at the moment, I don’t know who is, because he’s staking his claim with the way that he’s playing right now,” Hall said on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“I thought the All Black forward pack was outstanding through their efficiency at the breakdown for long periods of time, especially early on, and were able to get some really quick ball for Aaron Smith.”

Wales were trailing by just six-points when Savea threw an outrageous dummy in the 53rd minute, and changed the course of the game with a try assist for Aaron Smith.

Record-breaking scrum half Smith crossed for his second try of the Test after the world class backrower made a small, but effective, half-break through the Welsh defence close to the try-line.

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Then, about 11 minutes later, it was Savea’s turn to reap the rewards of both his hard work and the teams, as he jumped through the Welsh defence to cross for a try.

Echoing Hall’s comments, former All Blacks hooker James Parsons said it’s “a no brainer” for Savea to be in contention for World Rugby’s top individual accolade.

“I think it’s probably going to be a no brainer, like you just can’t ignore it,” Parsons said.

‘Both sides of the ball, every facet of play whether it’s set-piece, breakdown, ball-in-hand, defence. He’s just relentless.

“I do have the credit the numbers in front of him, man they’ve taken some heat but that was another massive step up for numbers one to five.

“Even a guy like Dalton Papali’i, he really won collisions as well.

“The key is look how well Aaron Smith played, look how much time he had. That’s the best we’ve seen him purely because that’s the best we’ve seen the All Black forward pack this year.”

Savea stole the show alongside a new-look backrow trio including Shannon Frizell and Dalton Papali’i.

Papali’i was given a brilliant opportunity to shine in the coveted No. 7 jersey for the All Blacks, after regular captain Sam Cane was ruled out for the rest of the year.

“He was outstanding,” Hall said about Papali’i.

“You look at those collision areas that he’s involved in, just so dominant and he’s got such great intent and mindset around that.

“He’ll make 15,16 tackles really easily but the dominance. I like being seeing him to be able to influence whether it be slow ball, has he slowed down the ball for three seconds? Has he been able to get over the ball?

“If he can get more opportunities, I think you look at this year, a lot of people would say it’s 50-50 between Papali’i and Cane (on) who wants to play, who wants to not.

“All he can control is being able to put back-to-back performances, and then put it on the coaches to make that decision. You don’t want to have one game here and there and then listen to the outside noise.

“That’s probably the best thing for him, knowing that Sam Cane is not there through injury. He’s going to have this end-of-year tour to get performances back-to-back and stake his claim going into next year which is a Rugby World Cup year.

“Sam Cane is the captain but all he can control is playing well, and every time he seems to do it at this level and gets given opportunities, he plays very, very well.”

Less than a year out from the Rugby World Cup, Papali’i has his best chance yet to stake his claim for that starting role in the black jersey.

But with Cane being the usual captain for the All Blacks, it would be a significant decision for Ian Foster to make before the World Cup.

“I think it’s unfair to talk as if Sam Cane hasn’t performed himself, he’s had some pretty big Test matches throughout this season,” Parsons said.

“I liken it to the hooker competition at the moment. Samisoni has played the house down, and he has brought the very, very best out of Codie Taylor.

“That competition and the ability to play well and put the coaches under pressure, I see it no different in the seven role. Dalton probably hasn’t had the chance to put his hand up, but these string of games I can see a similar relationship leading into next year.

“The one thing I know about Sam Cane, he never assumes he’s going to be picked.”

The All Blacks have two more Test matches to play this year, before their Northern Tour comes to an end.

First up is a crunch clash against Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend, before a blockbuster against England at Twickenham.

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