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Why Ardie Savea could pose a ‘greater’ threat off the bench at RWC

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

Putting passion, loyalty and rivalries aside, most rugby fans around the globe would agree that All Blacks backrower Ardie Savea is one of the best players in the world.


But looking ahead to this year’s Rugby World Cup, dual international Jeff Wilson believes the All Blacks would be better off if Savea doesn’t start in France.

Savea, who has played 70 Test matches in the black jersey, has been a mainstay of the New Zealand national team for a number of years now. The now 29-year-old made his debut in 2016 against Wales and hasn’t looked back.

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After announcing himself to the rugby world with some stunning performances on the international stage – working tirelessly in the pursuit of victory – Savea has made the All Blacks’ No. 8 jersey his own, and has also captained the national team.

So, to suggest that Savea shouldn’t be in the All Blacks’ starting side is nothing short of bold.

Many would agree that the dynamic loose forward should be one of the first names on Ian Foster’s team sheet – if not the first.

But with just over two months to go until this year’s Rugby World Cup, former All Blacks winger Jeff Wilson has raised the radical selection bombshell idea.


“I’m going to throw it in right now, I’m changing our number eight,” Wilson told Sky Sport’s The Breakdown. “I’m actually changing the makeup of our bench, I believe that’s how we’ll win the World Cup.

“Around the world, the globe and how the game’s being played, the nature of the physicality you need, if you want to be a defensive dominant team, your loose forwards have to be big men.

“We moved Ardie Savea to number eight because we didn’t have a solution in that position.

“(We need) specialists in specialist positions. For me, I’m looking at a guy like Luke Jacobson… his consistency, his size, his ability to hit – I’m looking at a change.

“I’m looking at a change. I want impact from the bench, and it’s Ardie Savea for me.”

Being named the All Blacks’ Player of the Year is no easy feat. Rugby players can’t fluke that – and Savea has received the honour more than once.


For the last two years, the Hurricanes captain has received the award following outstanding international campaigns in the coveted black jersey.

Savea has been that important for the All Blacks – and it’s not hard to see why.

When the All Blacks were struggling during the first half of last year’s international campaign – which included defeats to Ireland, South Africa and Argentina – Savea was a beacon of hope.

Savea was so good, in fact, that many rugby fans believed the All Black was worthy of a nomination for World Rugby’s Player of the Year award.

The No. 8 has been reliable, relentless and “remarkable” at Test level – but could potentially pose a “greater” threat off the bench.

“Ardie is a remarkable athlete. He plays full on for 80 minutes, (but) the last 30 minutes is where we’ll win Test matches,” Wilson added.

“His impact off the bench will be greater than his first 60 minutes starting. I honestly believe that.

“For 10, 15, 20 minutes, if you ask him to replace Sam Cane – absolutely. I have no issue with him in the number seven position or at number eight depending on what you’re needing. He’s (also) played number six for the All Blacks.

“But for pure size, I’m looking on both sides of the ball, I’m looking at what France have, what Ireland have, it’s size.”

The All Blacks begin their Rugby Championship campaign against Los Pumas in Mendoza, Argentina next month.

New Zealand will then return home to face reigning Rugby World Cup champions South Africa in Auckland, before jetting off across the ditch to face the Wallabies in Melbourne.


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Pete 380 days ago

Savea is a peg or two down on the form he used to display.
These days if he gets the ball he simply t-bones the nearest opposition player, and passes the ball even less than he used to, which was never great anyway. He has never been a link player.
Although he had a good attempt at matching the elderly Hurricanes hooker for on-field bad sportsmanship, the Wellington man still has him beat hands-down.

Nickers 382 days ago

Weakening a strength to strengthen a weakness is always a bad idea. Ardie Savea is one of only a couple of ABs who would make a world test 23, possibly the only one. He's proven season after season, in SR and crucially for the ABs unlike so many pretenders, that he can have a huge impact on the game for 80 minutes. He is just as likely to make a line break, put in a dominant tackle, or win a turnover in the 79th minute as he is in the 1st minute. Physically he is probably in his last couple of years of being able to deliver that level of intensity for a whole game. It is inconceivable that our most impactful player wouldn't play as many minutes as possible.

His work rate is unmatched, and having him missing for the first 50 minutes of the game would more than destroy any gains in perceived "balance" by starting Jacobson at 8.

Our back row is lacking balance because of Cane, and a seemingly never ending list of under-performers and walking wounded who have inhabited the 6 since Kaino retired.

This would be cutting the flowers and watering the weeds. It's hard to believe Wilson was once a professional rugby player and thinks Ardie Savea is somehow a problem the ABs have to solve.

jo 382 days ago

Opposing teams would do well to have a complete change of game plan the second he steps on. In knock out game.

David 382 days ago

can we change wilson and his mate marshall please wilson is all talk and thank god for the remote control and mute button

Another 382 days ago

While I don’t always agree with Jeff Wilson, he is right on the notion that there needs to be some clear headed, unsentimental thinking when it comes to strategically picking the All Blacks this year.

As it stands, the All Backs are one of the few teams in the world that are capable of picking a set of reserves that can really impact results if they chose to do so. We know that, for example, we have a potential ‘bomb squad’ reserve front row (Williams, Taukei’aho and Newall) that could act in a similar way the Springboks combination does. They could also be bringing on real impact players like one of the big locks (Retallick or Whitelock) along with Savea if they are brought on against tiring defences and similar things could happen with some backs (like Roigard, Mackenzie and Clarke).

So, rather than trying to cram the starting XV with stars, hold some back for later in the game and, instead, pick a big, hard tackling pack to grind down the fitness levels of opponents first. Think '23 man squad' tactics rather than '1st XV + subs'.

kingsiey 383 days ago

How about not staring Cane or even better drop him. Our best backrow is Jacobsen, Savea and Poppali…cane is now only a tackler in the tight, never is really seen as a link player where most flankers are in more dynamics plays

Jmann 383 days ago

How about just starting him at 7 where he is without peer?

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