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'He plays the game the way it should be': Teammate's praise for Ardie Savea

By Tom Vinicombe
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All Blacks openside flanker Dalton Papalii has shared what experienced loose forwards Sam Cane and Ardie Savea bring to the All Blacks environment.

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Despite the presence of Savea and Cane, Papalii has dominated the No 7 jersey this year for the New Zealand national side, making seven starts despite spending a good portion of the season sidelined due to a back issue.

Cane too has been out through injury for the majority of the season but has made a welcome return to the environment in recent weeks, while Savea has been an almost permanent fixture on the park, either on the openside flank or in the No 8 jersey. As such, Papalii has had the opportunity to learn from two of the best international flankers in the business while also being able to put those lessons into practice on the park, and has gone from strength to strength throughout 2021.

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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.

Unsurprisingly, Papalii will start in the No 7 jersey against Ireland in the All Blacks’ penultimate game of the year, alongside Ethan Blackadder and Savea, with Akira Ioane coming off the bench.

While the returning Cane has missed out on selection in the side, it’s what he does during the week that has impressed Papalii the most.

“He brings experience,” said Papalii of the permanent All Blacks captain. “He’s a veteran of the game and he’s been and played in many test matches and games like these so just picking his brain and just being around and seeing how professional he is coming into the environment, coming in late and all that [but adding his value where it’s needed.

“He doesn’t over speak, he speaks when he has something valuable to say and just being around the team, he brings that aura to the team that makes the boys work harder.”

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While Papalii is yet to play any minutes alongside Cane with the younger flanker making way for his more experienced teammate upon Cane’s return from injury against the United States, Papalii has had plenty of opportunities to play alongside Savea throughout the season and was struggled to put into words what the 28-year-old brings to the loose forwards equation.

“I can’t really explain what it feels like to play with such a quality player like that,” Papalii said. “He’s the same off the field as well, he’s a quality lad.

“To be playing with someone of that calibre, especially in our loosie pack, I can’t put it into words. It’s just awesome to be playing with a man like that.”

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While Papalii suggested that regardless of who you have running out alongside you in the black jersey, your responsibilities and role remains the same, he also said that having Savea on the pitch made everything that much easier.

“To be honest, our job roles don’t change, he just does everything and he does everything well and to the best of his abilities so it makes my job easier,” he said, “and I think it makes Ethan Blackadder’s job a little bit easier as well, the way that he plays the game.

“And he plays the game the way it should be [played] and that’s someone I’ll always try aspire to play like.”

Papalii and Savea have been the two most utilised loose forwards in the All Blacks’ stocks this year, regularly running out together with Ioane on the blindside flank. Blackadder appears to have jumped ahead of Ioane in the pecking order, but Ireland will present arguably the toughest physical challenge of the year for the men in black.

Saturday’s match kicks off at 3:15pm GMT (4:15am NZT on Sunday morning).

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