Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons believes Hurricanes wing Julian Savea has put himself back in line for a national re-call, four years after his last appearance for the All Blacks.
Savea is back in New Zealand playing in Super Rugby Aotearoa for the Wellington franchise he departed in 2018 following a slump in form that saw him dumped from the All Blacks.
After two tumultuous seasons with French Top 14 club Toulon, the 30-year-old returned to his homeland last year to play for Wellington in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Savea’s performances in the national provincial championship were enough for the Hurricanes to re-sign their former star man on a one-year deal.
Since returning to the field for the Hurricanes, the 54-test wing, who scored 46 tries in his international career, has started in both of his side’s opening two matches of the season after playing throughout the pre-season.
His performances have caught the eye of Parsons, who told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that Savea deserves to be considered for national selection on the basis of his efforts early on in the season.
When asked how many wings are in contention for All Blacks spots following the match-winning performance of Highlanders wing Jona Nareki against the Chiefs on Friday, Parsons name-dropped Savea as a potential contender.
“They’re starting to load up, because Sevu’s coming back into form,” Parsons said.
“You’ve got Caleb Clarke, you’ve got George Bridge, who’s rehabbing, probably watching going ‘Strewth, I’m under the pump here, I need to get back out on the field’.
“You’ve got Will Jordan, who just pops back up and reminds you he’s epic. Even though the try [he dropped over the line against the Hurricanes] was disallowed, he just sprints past everyone.
“I know Julian’s come back, but you have to consider him. I know there’s people out there saying he’s past it, but I don’t think they’re watching. Just watch him.”
Parsons reasoned that Savea’s work rate, physical condition, aerial skill and ball-carrying have all been impressive and that he should remain in the Hurricanes’ starting side despite calls for reserve wing Salesi Rayasi to be promoted from the bench.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 9, 2021
“I think Julian’s playing some great footy and he has to stay in the No. 11, personally for me,” Parsons said.
“Reason being because of his kick-chase efforts, his aerial skills around not only the box kick, but, as we saw for [Peter] Umaga-Jensen’s try, it shows the physical condition he’s in, the way he’s getting up in the air and winning that air battle.
“Not only for that try, but a lot of those box kicks and getting that ball back, and then just his work off the ball and finding touches, and then direct carries off set piece, we know he’s so good at.
“He’s always getting that gain line carry and he’s doing the work around there. You can only get the ball that you’re delivered and, for me, both games he’s shown plenty.”
Parsons, himself a two-test All Black, expanded on why he thought Savea was performing well upon his return to New Zealand rugby, noting he believed Savea looked to be happier than when he left for France.
During his time with Toulon, Savea was subjected to public criticism from then-club owner Mourad Boudjellal for a lack of form on multiple occasions.
Parsons, who retired from professional rugby in January, suggested being away from the environment and closer to his family in New Zealand may have contributed to Savea’s performances.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 8, 2021
“I don’t think he’s come back as an improved player, I think he’s come back as a settled and happy man off the field and I just think his happiness and his joy of his time with his family and being back with his wider family back in New Zealand,” he said.
“I think it has just emulated on him. He just looks happy. I don’t know, that’s just me looking there. He’s always had the rugby skill set. I don’t think he’s an improved rugby player, he’s always had that naturally.
“He’s just come back and he just is playing with, I don’t know, it looks like a freedom and a real want to do well for that jersey and a real want to back-up his brother [Ardie Savea] as a skipper.”
Parsons added that the older Savea brother may have a “chip” on his shoulder to prove wrong those who doubted him at the time of his exit from New Zealand three years ago.
“I think he will command that respect now because once he left here and went over to France, and obviously it was well-documented, the owner or whatever went on over there, and then coming back here, he just seems at peace.
“I don’t know. He just seems a lot happier, and that’s certainly shown in the way he’s playing.”
After losing both of their first two matches against the Blues and Crusaders this season, the Hurricanes will have a bye before playing the Chiefs in Wellington next Saturday.
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