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The one thing Ardie Savea would 'love to see change' about rugby

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

All Blacks back-rower Ardie Savea has revealed the one thing he would love to change about rugby, predicting that the popularity of the sport should explode in the coming years. He also named the two players who most influenced him growing up as a youngster in Wellington. The 29-year-old has featured as the cover story of the latest Rugby World magazine, the 68-cap Savea joining England’s Maro Itoje in a wide-ranging joint Q and A interview about a wide variety of rugby aspects.

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Savea is currently in the UK where the All Blacks are preparing to face Scotland in Edinburgh after he won his 68th cap last Saturday in the comprehensive Cardiff win over Wales. Asked if he could change anything about rugby what would it be, he replied: “One thing I’d love to see is the marketing of rugby (change).

“People come for the rugby game but what American sports and South Africa do really well is make it an event. So you go to a game but there will be, say, a braai before the game, everyone is there to connect. The game is there but there are a lot of things happening around the game, around that space.

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“It’s having a family day, getting food trucks and live bands playing so people get there two hours before the game and it’s not just about watching the rugby game, so it’s more appealing.”

Reflecting on his career so far, he nominated digital marketing as the biggest change he has witnessed in rugby. “There has been a change in the marketing of the game digitally. That has been amplified over the last couple of years and we’re just scraping the surface; it should explode over the next couple of years. The marketing of the game and the players has massively increased since I started.”

All Blacks regular Savea would like to see even more promotion, though, as he believes rugby must make more of its individual stars – the players. “I’m really a big advocate of players going direct to fans and cutting out the middle man, people doing their thing. Content creation helps boys grow their personal brands outside of footy.

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“I personally believe rugby is at a stage that it wants to change in that space. In order to do that there needs to be a change, maybe creating hero players for the public, stars. At the same time, if players get too big for their boots, teammates and team cultures bring them down, there will be conversations.

“We don’t market rugby like American sports; there are great personalities but they don’t get showcased. If players want to show their personalities, it’s great for the game and those players. On the other side, in terms of building a brand, it’s good for their teams and organisations as well.

“Players who start to have their own personal brands, other opportunities come from that. There are opportunities to grow the game and to help individual players create income outside of footy and for life after footy.”

What is the best way to go about increasing that popularity? “It’s governing bodies and teams being more open. All teams have content creators in the environment, so it’s being more open and heroing individuals. It’s getting to the stage now where it’s about growing the game,” continued Savea, who made his All Blacks debut in 2016.

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“A lot of the content side can depend on if you win or lose; if you are winning you get anything you want, if you lose there’s no access. But to grow numbers, to grow ‘x’ amount, people want to see emotions win or lose. It’s how you balance all those things.

“We have seen what that [Drive to Survive] has done for F1. Rugby is full of characters, you only have to spend 20 minutes in a rugby environment, the culture, to see the characters that exist in the sport, it just needs to be showcased.”

Reflecting on his love of rugby growing up, Savea nominated two former All Blacks as the players who most left an impression on him. “I have two players that I loved,” he said. “Joe Rokocoko on the wing and Ma’a Nonu. Rokocoko scoring tries and Nonu bumping off people caught my attention I guess.

“My game as a loose forward, I don’t play like a traditional forward. As a kid, it was who caught my attention and that shaped the way I play a little bit. A few of the tries I’ve scored I’ve done the Joe Rokococko dive and that’s exactly where it came from.”

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