Savea is more than just a player now, he's in the shop window to be All Blacks' skipper too
It might well be the media that decides whether we’re about to get a contest for the All Blacks’ No.7 jersey.
That’s currently occupied by the captain – Sam Cane – and ably so too.
But an alternative quietly emerged from the capital last week, albeit one whose interest in fronting the cameras isn’t awfully high.
Ardie Savea is some player. Whether at 6, 7 or 8, he’s done some tremendous things in test rugby.
It’s not so much that the newly-named Hurricanes captain is versatile, more that he’s had to accommodate different All Blacks’ skippers. First it was Kieran Read, who had to retain the 8 jumper, pushing Savea on to the blindside flank and now it’s Cane.
Savea can play 6 and pretty well too. Well enough to be named this country’s player of the year for 2019, having spent the test season there.
Now he’s trucking along at No.8, given the mortgage on 7 that captaincy has afforded Cane.
In many ways Savea is simply a loose forward. Not a traditional 8 or 6, but a guy who possesses so many skills that he has to be in the side.
Some will argue those loose forward’s skills of his might be best-deployed at openside flanker. Not least because Savea is not big by international blindside and No.8 standards.
Only 7 isn’t up for grabs, because that All Blacks jumper belongs to the skipper.
Fair enough. But what if Savea weren’t just an openside candidate, but a captaincy one too? What then?
As other players such as Hoskins Sotutu and Akira Ioane emerge, we might get to the point where Savea isn’t part of New Zealand’s best loose trio. At least not while he’s competing for the 8 or 6 jumpers.
You can’t can Cane, because he’s the captain. But what if Savea inherited that role too?
It might require the All Blacks to have a different head coach than Ian Foster but if the team’s 2021 is anything like last year, then he and Cane might find their jobs aren’t as secure as they’d hoped.
For any of this to pan out, though, Savea has to cop some of his off-the-park commitments sweet.
He’ll play well and he’ll captain the Hurricanes well. That’s a given.
From his days at Rongotai College, Savea’s qualities as a person and leader have been remarked upon as much as his playing prowess. If Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland had to sell Savea on anything, it would have been things such as media stand-ups.
Rightly or wrongly, Savea’s not a fan. Not many elite players are at this time in their career.
They tend to start pretty well, get too big for their boots and then realise late in the piece that they want to be remembered fondly, if possible.
Savea’s often seemed a bit wounded on his brother’s behalf, too. Julian Savea isn’t as good in front of the microphones and cameras as his little brother is and, once his own fortunes dipped, didn’t have too many media types rushing to his defence.
As Hurricanes captain, Ardie Savea will be up for media twice a week. Those skippers who fully engage seem to tolerate the experience okay, but those who resent it make life unnecessarily difficult for all involved.
And when the media know the captain of a team can’t stand them, it’s only human for their coverage to be coloured by that.
Savea is more than just a player now. He’s moved into that phase of his career where his words and actions reflect on New Zealand Rugby as well. He’s a franchise captain and therefore in the shop window to be All Blacks’ skipper too.
There’s no doubt he has the playing ability and charisma to do that. The question is whether he has the patience to put up with all the cameras and questions?
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