The plays against the Crusaders that showed Julian Savea could still be a centre for the Hurricanes
Returning Hurricanes winger Julian Savea scored his 52nd Super Rugby try against the Crusaders but it was his handling as a floating resource that has impressed watchers as the home side went down 27-30 against the Crusaders.
His ball skills were on show in two other Hurricanes’ tries, firstly in the lead up to Ngani Laumape’s try where he fixed Crusaders openside flanker Sione Havili with a deft double pump to free up Peter Umaga-Jensen on the outside.
In the lead-up to Wes Goosen’s try, it was Savea’s pullback pass to fullback Jordie Barrett which split open the Crusaders edge defence. Combining with Dane Coles, Savea feigned the short ball to Coles to expertly find Barrett out the back.
The line by Coles drew in the Crusaders defenders, freeing up Barrett to punch into a half-gap off Savea’s pass before offloading to Goosen.
After leaving the Hurricanes to join Toulon on a two-year contract midway through the 2018 season, the All Black begun a transition into the midfield regularly turning out for the French club as a second-five or centre.
At the start the move was questioned, but over time there were signs that the transition might work for his new club.
Since returning home to New Zealand, Savea played his comeback match as a 12 in club rugby and spoke of a potential long-term move to the midfield with former Hurricanes teammate James Marshall on the What a Lad podcast.
“For me, [playing in the midfield] wasn’t a part of the plan,” Savea told Marshall.
“I debuted on the wing [for Toulon], we played like the first 10, 15 games then the Six Nations came along … Obviously, all the French boys went off and we lost a few internationals for Fiji and stuff like that.
“There were a couple of spots [in the centres] and coach was like, ‘Yo, how do you feel about playing in the midfield? Would you play 13 or 12?’
“I was like, ‘Probably 12, I’ll just carry all day.’ Since then, I started staying there.”
Back in Mitre 10 Cup with the Wellington Lions, Savea re-established himself as a right wing and that is where the Hurricanes have used him this season in his return to Super Rugby.
Perhaps without the speed of his younger self, Savea’s big frame at 1.92m could still be a big problem for opposing sides as a 12 in New Zealand. His size and weight are comparable to Welsh and Lions centre Jamie Roberts, who was long used as a crash-running 12 to generate gain line for Warren Gatland.
‘The Bus’ is known for power running and bumping off defenders, which could prove useful in a midfield role in the midfield for the Hurricanes at some point down the track.
Showing his skills as a ball-player against the Crusaders furthers his chances that a move to midfield might be on the cards in New Zealand, where wingers are usually younger to maximise the peak of their athletic ability.
The Hurricanes have no shortage of options in the midfield with Peter Umaga-Jensen having a breakout year last year as a 13 and Billy Proctor committing long-term to the club with a five year contract back in 2018.
Former Warriors onvert Ngani Laumape has held down the second five position for the Hurricanes since 2017, and continues to be a force with his angry-style of destructive running.
Laumape will have a nervous wait after being yellow carded against the Crusaders for using a forearm to the face of lock Scott Barrett, which could potentially see the 12 serve a suspension.
If that is the case, the door could be ajar for Savea to make a move to 12 in Laumape’s absence.
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