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Ardie Savea reveals new sabbatical option, ongoing desire to represent Samoa

By Sam Smith

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Ardie Savea’s new four-year contract with New Zealand Rugby means he likely won’t be able to play for Samoa until 2028 at the earliest, but the 59-test All Black has revealed that he’s not shut the door on representing Pasifika sides in the future.

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Savea has been championing changes to World Rugby’s regulations which will allow players to switch international allegiances after a stand-down period and has previously spoken of how he would like to represent Samoa at some stage in the future. In a quirk of timing, those changes were finally ratified late in November – on the same day that Savea signed his new four-year deal.

“It was funny, the day I actually put pen to paper, that afternoon the eligibility [changes] came out,” revealed on the newest episode of the Ardie Savea Podcast. “That day before, I came out and said ‘I’d love to play for Samoa one day’. But people get it wrong and twist it. I’ll always say ‘I’d love to play for Samoa one day’ but not ‘for Samoa next year or the year after’.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

“One day in my career, if I was still good enough to represent the blue jersey – obviously because it would probably be at the back-end of my career – I’d love to. But if I wasn’t, then it is what it is.”

If Savea were to represent the All Blacks until the end of his current contract, which runs until 2025, he would then have to stand down from test rugby for a further three season and wouldn’t be eligible to take the field for Samoa until 2028. While you wouldn’t rule out Savea playing test rugby when he’s in his mid to late 30s, it would certainly be a challenge for one of the All Blacks’ top players.

In signing his new deal with NZR, Savea had to ensure his family would be well served for the long term, which means living in the country they love and having a good income. As such, staying in NZ was the best option.

“Even if I wanted to leave, I’d have to leave New Zealand and go and play somewhere in France or Japan to earn good money and then have a three-year stand-down from international footy,” Savea said. “If I wanted to play for Samoa right now … I’d miss the World Cup [because of the stand-down]. The risk and reward around that just didn’t add up.

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“As much as I’d love to, I’ve got to put food on the table for my family and set up my family, which is the main thing. Moana came into the picture. It’s a small part. It’s not representing Samoa but if I ever got a chance to and the timing was right, I’d still represent the islands and stuff like that.

“[I’m] trying to tell [Pacific Rugby Welfare CEO] Dan [Le’o] to fight for the stand-down to go down to one year, or one-and-a-half years. You never know. In 2027, I’ll be 33. You’ve got the greats like Richie [McCaw], Reado [Kieran Read] playing their peak footy at around 33, 34. If I can keep my body in check and keep my mind in check and play some good footy, you never know. I may not be at my peak yet, who knows? The option’s still not closed.”

Even if Savea doesn’t go on to play for Samoa in the future, the reason he threw his voice behind the campaign to change World Rugby’s eligibility rules was not to benefit himself.

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“When I voiced my opinion and was so vocal about it, it wasn’t necessarily for myself to switch straight away,” he said. “I was voicing it because I had the platform and I play for a tier-one nation. I was voicing it because I knew brothers that were playing overseas that only had a few caps for tier-one nations that would love to go play for the islands.

“I was just voicing that, using the platform, because I knew I would get attention from it, and just kind of voiced it for guys like Vaea Fifita and all the boys overseas to be able to go and play [for the Pacific Islands].

“Sometimes you’ve just got to be a businessman and create that kind of attention to create change. I saw something around [someone saying] they were surprised that the All Blacks have allowed someone like [me], who’s a leader, to come and voice that, [saying] ‘usually the All Blacks rein their players in so they stay in check and in line’. For people that believe that, players are changing. People are realising they’re more than an athlete. They’re voicing their opinions, they’re being themselves and they’re showing they can do that and play some good footy.”

If the opportunity to play for Samoa doesn’t come up, there’s also the possibility that Savea could represent new Super Rugby Pacific side Moana Pasifika following the 2023 World Cup, with Savea’s contract with the Hurricanes coming to an end that year.

“I have an out-clause where I can either stay with the Canes, renegotiate with the Canes, or I can decide to go somewhere else, another Super team, if I wanted to,” Savea explained. “The reasoning why is obvious. Obviously, there’s Moana Pasifika that’s in the tournament and you just never know after a World Cup, it might be time to just freshen it up but again, it was just to have it there in the contract so I had that option.

“There’s parts in my contracts too where … in 2024 I’ve got a playing sabbatical where I can go to Japan for that six-month period like what Pere [TJ Perenara] and Baz [Beauden Barrett] did. If I don’t take up that, I can take the whole Super Rugby off in ’24 as just an off-field playing sabbatical, or if I don’t take that, I can just come back later in that Super Rugby year. So those are the little things that you talk to senior players and what they have in their contract and you just kind of put it in there so you have options around that.”

So while Savea’s new contract should see him remain in NZ until 2025, the period beyond 2023 is far from mapped out and there are still plenty of possibilities for the 28-year-old’s future.

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