Ardie Savea’s form meant he couldn’t be left out of the All Blacks starting line-up to play Australia in Bledisloe I. That was acknowledged by both Steve Hansen and Michael Cheika today, with the Wallabies coach describing the flanker as a threat who will have to be watched closely.
Cheika also called Savea a “hybrid”-type player and one not constrained by orthodoxy. The Wallabies often run with two openside flankers and a No 8 but the All Blacks have rarely gone down this path; preferring instead a taller more traditional blindside rather than a shorter but explosive and pacey player such as Savea.
That they have selected him in the No 6 jersey is partly due to Liam Squire’s unavailability but in the end the choice must have been simple; he just couldn’t be left out and his combination with Sam Cane and Kieran Read will be eagerly anticipated by most rugby fans everywhere.
“Ardie is a player who is a sort of a hybrid,” Cheika said. “He can play that hard-running, aggressive game – he’s an openside as well. I had the opportunity to coach him for a small time at the Baabaas … you get to see the player for what he is and he’s a bit of a hybrid between a No 8, a six and a seven. Often that can hurt players but he’s a good enough player to be able to push through that and continually be selected for New Zealand.
“We’ve always had that; we’ve played [David] Pocock (still injured) and [Michael] Hooper together … I don’t think the profile of any player is the essential element, it’s more the quality of the player and he’s obviously got good quality and we’ll have to watch him closely.”
Hansen said: “We’re at that part of the year where we need to start putting our combinations that we want to see on a regular basis out there,” adding that Savea’s role wouldn’t differ hugely. His greatest strength as a No 8 or openside is his ability to put his teams on the front foot and he will be expected to do the same against the Wallabies.
As to where he would pack down in the scrum or the specifics of his role, Hansen added: “We don’t need to tell Australia everything do we? But probably not [pack down as a traditional blindside] – they’re only numbers.”
Savea added: “I’ve just got six on my back, I guess. Everything will stay the same; I’ll just go out there and nail my role within the team.
“Having guys like Sammy and Reado around makes it easier as well.”
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