Even the less optimistic were still sure he would be part of a very competitive battle with Sam Cane for the role and playing time with the international team.
Fast-forward a few years and the former has, unfortunately for Savea, not proven to be the case.
Admittedly, he has won 25 caps for the All Blacks and that’s no mean feat for a retiring veteran, let alone a player at 24 years of age who is not even coming into his ‘peak’ yet, but those caps have clearly come with Savea as the secondary option to Cane. Of those 25 caps, 20 have come from the bench, with starts coming against Samoa, Argentina (twice) and South Africa, as well the most recent being in the third and final Test of the series with France last month, a game in which the series had already been wrapped up by the All Blacks.
There were a few murmurs he could leave Super Rugby as soon as the end of the 2018 season but by recently signing a one-year extension with New Zealand Rugby, Savea has put himself in an enviable position.
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The players’ collective agreement in New Zealand expires at the end of this year and with broadcast revenue increasing due to higher demand and an influx of new platforms, such as Amazon Prime, the allocation of money for player retention is likely to increase significantly going into next year.
This is the perfect situation for Savea.
If he is happy in New Zealand, has another good season with the Hurricanes and either believes he can force his way into the All Blacks XV or is happy to play his role from the bench, he can sign new terms with the Hurricanes and NZR at a substantial increase in earnings.
On the other hand, if he is keen to broaden his horizons and seeks a deal outside New Zealand, he has the prospect of increased wages with NZR to use as leverage and broker a more beneficial deal wherever it is that he would end up.
France would be a good bet.
The earning potential, on average, is unrivalled, the level of competition is good and his brother would be relatively close by, with Julian heading out there later this year to join up with Toulon. Ireland is an outside bet, although mitigated by their rules on non-Irish-qualified players, whilst a number of Top League clubs in Japan have the financial muscle to make Savea a tempting offer, but without the standard of play that he could expect in Europe.
Ultimately, if he chooses not to stay in New Zealand and doesn’t end up in France, the likely alternative is England and the Gallagher Premiership. The salary cap may be lower in England than it is in France, but if he were to find the right team with an open marquee player spot, his earnings could match – or possibly even surpass – those that he would likely make in France.
One of the leading candidates for his signature would undoubtedly be Harlequins.
The south-west London club have recently entered into a cooperation agreement with NZR, one of the key features of which is the club being promoted to Kiwi players as a possible sabbatical destination. This would keep a return to New Zealand and the All Blacks open to Savea, should the situation change domestically while he is abroad.
Quins have the resources to make Savea an attractive offer, they have the lure of London and a back-row that will likely lose the veteran Chris Robshaw in the short-to-medium-term, as well as uncertainty over Jack Clifford, with the former England U20 captain currently suffering through a horrendous run of injuries.
It will be interesting to see how Quins play under new Head of Rugby Paul Gustard, too. If there is an adoption of the defence that Gustard used at Saracens, whereby players commit less to the breakdown and instead ensure the defensive line has width and line-speed on the next phase, it could suit Savea’s mobile game perfectly.
Another option would be Northampton Saints, who will soon come under the stewardship of Savea’s current head coach, Chris Boyd.
Savea has thrived under Boyd’s guidance at the Hurricanes and Wellington and there’s no doubt that the Kiwi coach would be a swing factor in any bid to lure Savea to Franklin’s Gardens at the end of 2019.
One other club that should be dusting off its chequebook in a bid to snap up the talented back-rower are Bristol Bears.
Bristol have become a fashionable destination for Kiwi players under Pat Lam, with the financial firepower of owner Steve Lansdown, the ambition of the club to become a European force and the presence of the former Blues and Connacht head coach on the sidelines proving to be a potent mix.
The club has already brought in the likes of Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau and although they both come from Lam’s former club in Auckland, it’s not a huge leap to propose that Savea might be interested in joining Lam’s revolution down in the south-west.
All three clubs would relish an addition like Savea bolstering their ranks and they wouldn’t go far wrong by reaching out at the end of this Super Rugby season and testing the waters.
If the feedback is positive, they might want to starting setting aside a portion of their 2019/20 budgets.
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