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Why Julian Savea won't earn an All Blacks recall despite hot Hurricanes form

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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A former All Black and a Super Rugby Pacific star say it’s difficult to see Julian Savea earning an All Blacks recall this year, despite his strong form for the Hurricanes.

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Savea has won plenty of plaudits for his impressive efforts both on the wing and in the midfield for the Hurricanes in the midst of his second spell with the Wellington-based franchise after having returned from Europe two years ago.

As such, many are keen for Savea to return to the All Blacks after his standout showings throughout the season, one of which came against the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend.

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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific | Aotearoa Rugby Pod

In that match, the 31-year-old produced a trademark bump-off against Highlanders midfielder Scott Gregory in the lead-up to a disallowed try in which Savea lost control of the ball over the line after being taken in a two-man tackle.

The sight of Savea at full tilt was reminiscent of him at the peak of his powers between 2012 and 2017 and added to what has been a promising season in which the 2015 World Cup winner has seemingly expanded his skillset as a triple-threat player.

It’s for that reason that many hope to see Savea back in the All Blacks to add to his strike rate of 46 tries in 54 tests, but former All Blacks hooker James Parsons and Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall believe he will struggle to do this year.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Hall said the growth of Savea’s game from being used solely as a battering ram to a player that also poses a threat out of hand and off the boot has been eye-catching.

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However, Hall added that Savea would be competing for the power wing role in the All Blacks squad, and suggested the national selectors may instead opt for younger players such as Caleb Clarke and Leicester Fainga’anuku to fill that position.

“There’s a lot of players playing really well at the moment on the left wing and right wing,” Hall, a five-time Super Rugby title-winner, told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“He’s playing really well. I think the difference that I have enjoyed with Jules coming back, since he’s come back from Europe, is the subtle touches and his growth within his game, whether that be his distribution or his kicking game.

“We’ve always known that he’s been a destructive ball carrier, and then his work rate, being able to work in and around the ruck whether that be off 10 or 9, but I’ve really enjoyed his subtle touches.

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“A lot of those times this year, Jules has been in that distribution role of being able to put players away, which we probably didn’t see a lot when he was here in New Zealand.

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“That’s not to say that he wasn’t able to do it, but just with the kind of game style that they were playing at the Hurricanes and All Blacks, it was his ball-carrying ability that was really at the forefront of why he was selected.

“I’ve loved the subtle touches, and if he continues to keep playing, he keeps knocking on the door, he puts himself in with a chance [of All Blacks selection].

“But, I think there are just so many great wingers at the moment that they might go in a different direction moving forward because they’ll probably want to have a four, five-year plan with new selections coming through.

“You look at [Etene Nanai]-Seturo coming through, you’ve got Leicester Fainga’anuku, you’ve got Caleb Clarke, all these guys that are young and probably still aspiring to be All Blacks and play at that level that Jules was able to do for so long in that No 11 jersey back in the day.”

Hall’s comments were supported by Parsons, the former two-test Blues captain who said that Savea could yet return to the All Blacks, especially if he carried his good form into next year ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

In saying that, Parsons agreed with Hall that the likes of Clarke, Fainga’anuku and Nanai-Seturo may all be ahead of Savea in the national pecking order.

“I think coming close to 2023, why not pick someone in-form?” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

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“If he is that guy, I don’t think they should hesitate on him in that sense, but, in terms of like-for-like, he’s probably going for that Caleb Clarke, Leicester Fainga’anuku position, and I suppose Nanai-Seturo, like you said Bryn, comes into that mix.

“I thought he was exceptional on the weekend. He’s been going from strength-to-strength, so not only is the back three logjammed in all five Super clubs, it means the logjam at All Black level will make it a challenge for guys to slip in, I’d say.”

Parsons tipped Clarke and Crusaders flyer Will Jordan to start for the All Blacks in the No 11 and No 14 jerseys this year, with Hurricanes star Jordie Barrett to land the fullback role.

Hall wasn’t as sure, though, as he said either Clarke or Fainga’anuku will start on the left wing, while the make-up of the remainder of the outside backs will be dependent on whether Barrett is picked as a fullback or second-five.

“It’s tough, man. I’d probably either go Caleb Clarke or Leicester Fainga’anuku on the left-hand side, just for that power winger, if they go that way,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“Then, if they want to – from what we’ve seen at the Hurricanes – have Jordie at 12, then possibly Sevu Reece [on the right wing]. If not, if Jordie’s going to play at fullback, then Will Jordan on the wing, and then Jordie at fullback.”

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