'The money's good': All Black's blunt admission on Japan move
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks star Ardie Savea’s honest admission regarding his transfer to Japan could serve as a big warning to New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
A lot of high-profile New Zealand Rugby stars have opted to part for greener pastures handing a big headache to the All Blacks management ahead of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, a string of home defeats shattered the All Blacks’ aura of invincibility.
However, talisman Ardie Savea revealed that the three-time champions will find a “fix” before this year’s showpiece.
The 29-year-old loose forward was a key member of an All Blacks side which uncharacteristically struggled for consistency in 2022, losing three times at home.
Back-to-back losses saw the All Blacks suffer a home Test series defeat to Ireland for the first time in their history.
More defeats followed in the Rugby Championship, away to South Africa in Mbombela, then at home against Argentina – the Argentines’ first win on New Zealand soil.
When the All Blacks bounced back during a topsy-turvy season with follow-up wins over the Springboks and Los Pumas, Savea was outstanding.
He repeatedly pinched possession off the Springboks and set up David Havili’s crucial try in a 35-23 win in Johannesburg.
The All Blacks are not used to losing, an unusual feeling that Savea said “obviously sucks” and he wants no repeat of.
“I’m optimistic, so, for me, leading into this year we will take some growth out of it and fix things,” he told AFP.
“Looking back, the main thing is we can’t afford to win a great game, then believe the hype and lose one.”
He added: “It’s about not being too emotional and just asking, ‘What do we need to do to win?’
“If we do our jobs consistently every week like the All Blacks have done [in the past], results will take care of themselves.”
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A big 12 months beckons for the burly back-row, who will captain the Hurricanes when the Super Rugby Pacific season kicks off in late February.
The All Blacks start their Rugby Championship campaign away to Argentina in July, then face Bledisloe Cup Tests against Australia, before taking on South Africa in a World Cup warm-up game in London in late August.
New Zealand face hosts France in a mouth-watering opening match of the World Cup in Paris on September 8.
After the tournament, Savea will leave his young family behind in New Zealand to join Japanese club Kobelco Kobe Steelers, where he will play alongside All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.
Savea and Retallick are part of a growing exodus of All Blacks heading to Japan post-World Cup.
Veteran halfbacks Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith will play for Toyota Verblitz, while Richie Mo’unga and Shannon Frizell join Tokyo-based Toshiba Brave Lupus in 2024.
Savea is honest about his motivation for going to Japan.
“Plain and simple: to set up my family. The money’s good, I’m not going to lie,” he said.
“It’s made me want to give everything with the Hurricanes this year knowing I won’t be here next year.”
He finished last season as the All Blacks’ first-choice Number Eight, but Savea is taking nothing for granted.
He points to promising teenage loose forward Peter Lakai, who is set to push Savea for his Hurricanes place.
“To be honest, it’s crazy because a lot of people just think I’ll be in the All Blacks team, but I have to earn my spot,” he said.
“What drives me is the fear of looking in my brothers’ [teammates] eye and they don’t trust me.
“I try to have that mindset every day.”
Diamond in the pack
Savea’s performances, such as against Wales last November when he scored a try and brushed off numerous defenders to create another, often makes him an ace in the All Blacks’ pack.
With a wide grin, the father-of-three sings the Rihanna hit “Diamonds” to explain how he stays fresh during a season filled with high-pressure games.
“For me, rugby isn’t everything. I treat it as something I love. The moment I have the mindset that it’s a job, then it’s a job,” he said.
“I always make sure home is all good – the kids and wife are happy – when they are, man, I can ‘shine bright like a diamond’,” he adds, bursting into the lyrics of the song.
Savea has never forgotten his roots, regularly returning to his old school, Wellington’s Rongotai College.
His own schoolboy rugby dreams were fuelled when former alumni like All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu paid a visit.
“I always remember as a kid when Ma’a used to come back to the club and how buzzy it was,” said Savea.
“I have always had that at the back of my mind because if he had that effect on me, hopefully I can do the same.”