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Ardie Savea: 'It still stings not being able to win the World Cup'

By Liam Heagney
Ardie Savea watches a big screen replay during the Rugby World Cup final (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Ardie Savea was running late on Thursday, initially walking around with his iPhone camera video looking shaky before he eventually found a quiet place of sanctuary to field questions from a Zoom media assembly numbering in the 20s.


We were ostensible online to chat about the World Rugby player of the year’s new Japanese adventure, a stint at the high-flying Kobelco Kobe Steelers who will be in action live on RugbyPass TV on April 7 at home to Suntory Sungoliath when the Japan Rugby League One resumes following this weekend’s Easter break.

The access plan with the All Blacks back-rower is a split, with online reporters getting first dibs followed by a longer embargoed section for newspapers. RugbyPass was essentially given the hospital pass, invited by the session host to open proceedings while Savea was still on the move.

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Tony Brown explains the ‘scary prospect’ awaiting the Springboks in the Rugby Championship later this year

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Tony Brown explains the ‘scary prospect’ awaiting the Springboks in the Rugby Championship later this year

Off we went. Savea originally said when he signed the deal with Kobe in February 2023 to play in Japan for the 2023/24 campaign that he was looking forward to feeling like a rookie again after a decade’s Super Rugby service with the Hurricanes. Eleven games in, how has that aspiration worked out?

“It has been real refreshing to come to a new team and just start over again and get to know people, kind of figure things out. When you go to Super Rugby and you play for 10 years, you know what is expected, know what is coming, but here I have come with the unknown feeling which has kept me on my toes. I have just been enjoying and loving every moment in terms of the footy, the team, the environment, just everything about it. So far it has been really good.”

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Tell us more. What have you especially been loving? “Just coming in, loving Rens [Dave Rennie] and how he has incorporated culture into the Kobe Steelers. I rocked up and all the boys were signing Samoan, Tongan, Japanese songs, everyone had learned them during pre-season. Just all that kind of stuff.

“The food, over here the lifestyle around just being able to experience a new culture. And also like the footy here is pretty class here too which kind of not surprised me but there are really good players over here that are playing in this competition.”


Ian Foster was at the helm when the All Blacks reached the final of the 2023 Rugby World Cup five months ago and Scott Robertson is the next man up. What are Savea’s thoughts on the prospect of getting to work with the ex-Crusaders boss when the international season opens with the home two-Test series versus England in July?

“We’ll wait and see, mate, I need to make the squad first. But mate, so far it has been refreshing, mentally refreshing. Yeah, so hopefully that pays dividends when it comes to All Black selection and the All Blacks’ time. But I just kind of investing myself into Kolbe and trying to win a championship here.”

So you have spoken to Robertson? “Yeah, yeah, I have had a few conversations with Razor just around feedback on my game and what I am doing well, what I need to improve on or work-ons. It’s kind of been minimal, mate, but it’s all that I need over here in terms of how to be better, how to get better and what I am doing well.”

By now, Savea has located a place to sit, hunkering down in the library-styled lobby of his apartment building in Kobe. Mention of Rennie, the ex-Wallabies and Chiefs boss, how has Savea found the experience of being under his thumb?


“He has been awesome. I am loving Rens and his style of coaching. I have never had him in my career, so it’s actually a real blessing to come to Japan and you have got a world-class coach that is coaching the team.

“Like I said before, mate, I love his detail in his coaching and I love the fact that he incorporates culture. He makes sure that everybody, including the families here, are all welcome, are all together because you have got so many different backgrounds, especially in the Kobe team. I have been loving it and I think I am enjoying my time here with Dave.”

With the clock ticking and a heads-up from the organiser to finish up, the last RugbyPass query was how Savea now looks back on the All Blacks’ agonising 11-12 loss to the Springboks in Paris 22 weeks ago? “Yeah, it stings still a little bit not being able to win the World Cup,” he said.

“But you know it’s something that I have had to kind of process and I think of what we could have done better, what if this happened but it’s done now and I think for myself personally the only way to move on is to do my best for Kobe but also look at the game against South Africa and reflect on the good and I guess the negatives and the work-ons that I can learn from as a leader and then hopefully use that to better myself here and then obviously better myself in the future wherever that takes me.”

Thanks for your time, Ardie. In total, the online section of his media session encompassed 16 questions over 14 minutes from five different reporters, two based in Ireland and the UK, two more in New Zealand, and another in South Africa.

The conversation initially moved onto Brodie Retallick, his fellow All Black who is with him at the Steelers. “Over here a lot of the foreign boys are not forced to but kind of gravitate towards each other and spend a bit more time together than what we would usually do at home, so it has been awesome having Guzzler [Retallick] here.

“He’s my locker room neighbour so we talk about what is going in Super and have our little banter with the Super teams. But it’s been awesome. I have real close also to Ngani Laumape who is here, which has been really good transitioning from New Zealand coming here, there are a few boys, a few familiar faces that have made the transition easy.”

Savea assured that Retallick is hitting as hard as ever. “He’s bringing the same intensity. Nothing has changed with Guzzler. He’s a soldier, a great workhorse, awesome leader, just doing his thing over here in Japan.”

Mention Japan, what is Kobe vibe? “I just wanted something fresh. I didn’t know when I was speaking about coming to Kobe what was around here. All I knew was Tokyo when I came with the All Blacks. Being here; I find that [Kobe] way better than Tokyo.

“There’s quiet areas, there’s busy areas where I can go to in the space of 30 minutes. My family loves it, my wife loves it here so that’s the most important thing. When my family is happy I’m happy so it’s been amazing being here so far. I am really enjoying it.”

When Savea takes the field at Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium on Sunday week, he will do so promoting his new Asics boots which celebrate the significant contribution Polynesian athletes make in the game. He’s chuffed with that prospect.

“The Asics boot, the Voyager boot, is something that is really close to my heart and one of my favourite projects that I have done in my career and my life so far. People see the fruit of it now but it has been six years in the making and building relationships with Asics and being able to bring something forward to represent my culture and other people’s culture.

“That base needs more representation, more acknowledgment especially in our game so to be able to trade boots, I got them today to be able to wear this week. It’s pretty special just thinking of the Samoan home, my mum and dad, family are very proud. I can’t play for Samoa, that is out of my hands, but to be able to do this and represent my culture is pretty special.”

About the Polynesian brotherhood in Japan, please elaborate. “It’s a vehicle, a vessel for us to come together and connect. We sometimes forget a lot of us boys are away from our families. Some of the Pacific Island boys have been in Japan since university so it’s always nice to come together, have a laugh, connect, sometimes check in on each other without even knowing it. It’s been amazing to do that here, connect with the brothers and just enjoy each other’s company.”

Next up came the query about Savea being tipped to skipper the All Blacks versus England in the absence of the injured Sam Cane. “Mate, that’s a pretty straightforward question isn’t it, over here in Japan and it’s boom. Mate, first of all, there is a lot of talk of me being in this team; like I need to make the team first!

“I’m away, I have been watching Super Rugby, there have been some great players that are playing; that [All Blacks captaincy] is kind of the last thing that is on my mind. Being here has given me a new perspective but mate, to be honest, it’s not even a focus. Would it mean a lot to me whatever that is; we have got new coaching staff so I have no idea what pecking order, what’s happening. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

But what about the excitement of the new Robertson broom and the impressive bronco times that have been posted from his initial camps? “Yeah, it is very exciting. The All Blacks boys I think have had camps and from what I have heard it’s been pretty refreshing and pretty new and exciting the lads have said. Just have to wait and see.

“To be honest, I have just kept away from New Zealand rugby, I have watched the Hurricanes boys and Bus [Julian Savea] playing for Moana but everything else, I have just gotten away from New Zealand and just enjoying my time here in Japan, freshening up so I haven’t really followed much.

“It’s pretty cool; (but) it’s one thing running a bronco and then there is another thing running in the rugby field with a football, but yeah the boys are looking deadly. It’s a good challenge, it keeps me on my toes and it’s good competition.”

The final word took a South African flavour. How excited was Savea with the chance of featuring in a two-Test away series versus the Springboks, and would he mind settling the recent hot topic of whether the world champion Boks or back-to-back Guinness Six Nations champions Ireland are the world’s No1?

“South Africa is one of the biggest rivals for us as All Black. And yeah, we do miss playing South African teams in Super Rugby. Playing two Tests in South Africa, it’s like a highlight I guess in a player’s career in New Zealand to be able to go to South Africa and play against the Springboks.

“It will be awesome to be able to make that team, be a part of that, come back to South Africa and play the world champions. There will be a bit of sting in that too. It will be good.”

And that SA versus Ireland debate? “Mate, South Africa are world champions. That speaks for itself.”

That was that from the live section, but watch out for the embargoed section from other media with Savea, amongst other things, naming the Japan player who is the Cheslin Kolbe of the Far East and also his view of mental health and rugby. It’s all good value. Well played, the World Rugby player of the year for 2023.

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Brent 118 days ago

Just such a genuine good bloke…and probably the best all round player in his generation. Good guys do come first sometimes and he handled the W.Cup loss with great attitude.

Bull Shark 118 days ago

Ardie is a legend. Finished and klaar.

Two things:

“Yeah, yeah, I have had a few conversations with Razor just around feedback on my game and what I am doing well, what I need to improve on or work-ons. It’s kind of been minimal, mate, but it’s all that I need over here in terms of how to be better, how to get better and what I am doing well.”

I hope he’s downplaying it - and that it’s not that “minimal”.

The amount of communication and behind the scenes preparation the Bok coaches put into players - Rassie and co would be all over Ardie and being clear on what is expected of him. This stands out for me as something teams should really be looking at in terms of the boks success from a coaching point of view. And was surprised by the comment - “minimal”.

In terms of the “debate” around Ireland and South Africa. Nice one Ardie. Indeed. There’s no debate.

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