Julian Savea’s debut for the All Blacks in 2012 would be the start of a prolific test career, going on to score 46 tries in 54 appearances. But his three tries on debut surprised even his mum.
“I think he did really well. We were surprised he scored three tries in his first game though,” she said to the NZ Herald at the time.
“He was happy that he scored a try and he said he was never expecting to get three. He owes it all to the team of guys that set him up.”
Following the 2011 World Cup win, the All Blacks were starting the first test of the season against Ireland who were visiting the world champions for a three match tour.
After bursting onto the scene with the Hurricanes the year prior, a 21-year-old Savea was picked alongside Zac Guilford and Israel Dagg in the back three for the opening test at Eden Park.
Savea was one of three debutants on the night, along with Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick. Returning to the starting line-up was Dan Carter, who suffered a groin injury during the pool stages of the World Cup.
The young Hurricane started off with a loose but strong carry on a kick return, posing a handful for the Irish defence but had the ball stripped in the process of falling to the ground.
Savea found his feet after a crunching tackle on Irish fullback Rob Kearney, and a short while later linked up with most of the All Blacks backs on a sweeping counter-attacking movement to score his first test try.
Carter expertly offered the last pass for Savea to coast over for the first try of the match in the 26th minute for a dream start. Just two minutes later Savea made a clean break after a touch at first receiver, breaking the Irish defence and streaking downfield. It was all up from there.
On the stroke of halftime, Israel Dagg found some space for the left wing to bury his way over the try line in the tackle of Conor Murray and Kearney for his second try.
Just three minutes into the second half his hat-trick was complete, when a smart All Blacks launch play set Israel Dagg away down the left edge. The last Irish defenders were confuddled by Dagg, parting like the Red Sea for Savea to dot down again.
His night finished in the 65th minute when he was substituted for Aaron Cruden, finishing with 104 running metres, three tries, and two line breaks as the All Blacks thumped Ireland 42-10 in the first test.
Patrick McKendry of the New Zealand Herald wrote ‘it all seemed a bit easy for the 21-year-old’ who might’ve felt that test rugby wasn’t such a big deal after a stellar debut.
“Julian Savea could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. A hat-trick on debut, the first three tries of tonight’s match against Ireland, mixed with an impressive defensive display,” he wrote.
“It all seemed a bit easy for the 21-year-old who stands as tall as Jerome Kaino and almost hits as hard. What made it doubly special was the fact that this wasn’t an Irish team which just fell over. The All Blacks had to work hard for their points, and Savea was often the man to benefit.
The international press was just as enamoured, Irish website the42 wrote that Savea was ‘near unstoppable’ in his debut performance, and highlighted his tackle on Kearney
“The powerful Savea, a former IRB junior player of the year, who has been compared in the New Zealand media to rugby legend Jonah Lomu, was near unstoppable against Ireland as he steam-rolled his way down the left wing.
“And the 21-year-old did not just demonstrate a knack for finding the try-line. He also made a bone-jarring tackle on Rob Kearney that turned the impetus of the game midway through the first half.”
ESPN Staff wrote that Ireland ‘had no answer’ for the All Blacks backs, who ran roughshod over the visitors and that rugby has uncovered a new star in Julian Savea.
“International rugby has a new star in All Blacks winger Julian Savea. The Hurricanes’ speedster backed up his strong Super Rugby form with a dazzling Test debut that brought him a hat-trick of tries, over 100m with ball in hand and the odd linebreak.
“The Irish had no answer for the pace and power of world champions’ backline and the Hurricanes winger ran in three tries inside the first 43 minutes of his first international outing.
“The running lines and swift incisions of Israel Dagg, Conrad Smith and Savea caused Ireland problems throughout and coach Declan Kidney will need to come up with a way of negating the dangerous New Zealand backs if Ireland are to avoid a series sweep.”
The All Blacks went on to win the second test 22-19, in which current captain Sam Cane made his debut, before a blowout 60-0 win in the third and final test to complete the series sweep.
Watch all the key moments from Julian Savea’s All Black debut versus Ireland in 2012.
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