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It should really be Ardie Savea over Am

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Once again All Blacks No 8 Ardie Savea has been unequivocally snubbed for the second year in a row after World Rugby announced their four nominees for Player of the Year: Lukhanyo Am, Josh van der Flier, Johnny Sexton and Antoine Dupont.

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The most questionable nomination of the four is Am, only because his season is incomplete. He is a great player but has played just five tests this year, and only three of those the Springboks actually won.

He was having a career year before injury struck in a loss to the Wallabies in Adelaide and has not played since. The Springboks will play 13 tests this year and he will feature in less than half.

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There is no way Am can win the award based on that, in a season where his team hasn’t won any silverware to boot. Does he deserve recognition anyway? Maybe. Does he deserve that recognition over others? No.

At times the nominations for World Rugby’s most prestigious individual accolade can confuse, such as the brown-nosing selection of USA Eagle Joe Taufete’e in the 2019 crop.

No disrespect to Taufete’e, but the Eagles did not achieve much that year and none of their players are at the level of most tier one outfits.

An independent panel of rugby writers would never have dreamed to nominate him. Most probably wouldn’t have known his name, such was the notoriety of the pick.

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Then there are the ever-changing number of nominations year over year. That year six players were worthy of recognition, this year only four. In other years gone, five have been put up.

That inconsistency leads one to believe that the governing body will accomodate those who are deemed worthy if they put together the body of work. There is no stated limit on nominations.

This makes the omission of Ardie Savea in 2022 all the more puzzling as if there was a standout candidate, he would be it. At times he has been a one-man band, providing for the All Blacks in every facet of the game.

He is their best ball carrier, arguably their best jackler, a key line out option, and the X-factor playmaking force that has been producing tries and try assists all year long.

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Although the All Blacks eventually lost their home series to the number one ranked side, Ireland, there was a 42-19 victory in the first test where Savea was at his influential best.

Logging 16 tackles from 17 attempts in defence, Savea scored two tries including one of the best of year early in the second half where he beat centre Garry Ringrose cold on the outside.

After escaping the clutches of the Irish No 13, Savea beat Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls to score a stunning individual effort at Eden Park.

Perhaps his case for Player of the Year nomination is boosted by the second test in Dunedin, where Savea was unable to return back onto the pitch after a substitution kerfuffle after a spate of cards. The All Blacks were outgunned as Ireland took advantage with the No 8 stuck on the bench.

Back on the field for the decider in Wellington, Savea helped stage a second half fightback by scoring the first try of the game for the All Blacks on a gritty pick and go, twisting and turning his way over. He provided the pass for two of the All Blacks line breaks, one of which led to a breakaway try to Will Jordan.

His biggest blemish was jumping the gun at the ruck to pounce on the ball that was judged to still be in the ruck, leading to a key penalty to Ireland and a maul try.

Overall, he was really one of the few shining lights of the Irish series from a New Zealand perspective, producing three tries, a try assist while being a carry machine and one of the few reliable forces in the forwards in defence over the two and a quarter tests he was on the field.

The Rugby Championship started with back-to-back games against the Springboks in South Africa, the first of which in Mbombela did not have much home to write home about for the visitors.

Savea still managed nine from nine tackles and a turnover in the loss as the All Blacks attack failed to take their opportunities in the 26-10 defeat.

Faced with extreme pressure at Ellis Park the next week and the fate of head coach Ian Foster in the team’s hands, Savea produced a key performance in the 35-23 win with backs against the wall.

He killed off two deep South African attacking raids with two clean steals at breakdown whilst providing a try assist for David Havili’s try, the one which took the lead in the final ten minutes.

He bumped away two Springbok forwards and had the presence of mind to push a late pass to Havili as the next Bok defenders engulfed him.

In the 53-3 win over the Pumas, Savea came up with a try, a try assist and 11 tackles from 11 attempts as they avenged the shock defeat a week earlier in Christchurch.

He missed the trip to Melbourne but returned for the second Bledisloe to add 12 from 12 tackles and another turnover in the 40-14 win where the All Blacks pack dismantled the Wallabies up front, piling on multiple tries from the maul.

In two tests on the Northern tour, Savea has continued his playmaking while showing why he is one of the best forwards in the game. Against Wales he was dominant with the ball-in-hand, bulldozing through and over Wales.

His stat line was ridiculous with 15 carries, one try, one try assist, six defenders beaten while on defence he made 11 from 11 tackles and added two ruck turnovers.

Against Scotland he had a clean ruck steal, a holding on penalty right on halftime and Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie conceded away another by over-rolling on the ground with the threat of Savea over the ball.

That was three turnovers that he could be attributed with, two of which were one metre from the All Blacks line saving them from conceding tries.

Frankly, there is not another nominee who has produced in as many areas of the game as Savea. Their workloads are about half of what Savea does in any given test, yet he produces just as many big plays.

He has become the All Blacks’ best weapon in attack this year. He can ball-play, he can evade, he can offload, he can sit defenders on their backsides. He can carry in close or link on the end of a back line. He is a one of a kind all-round monster.

The All Blacks did not start the year well, but did in fact, win their second consecutive Rugby Championship title, retained the Bledisloe Cup, the Freedom Cup and are currently riding a six game winning streak.

Savea has been influential in achieving all of that, whilst he gave the best account of himself in the Irish series loss against the number one ranked side.

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