VIDEO: Savea dismisses talks of captain's armband burden
SPOTLIGHT: One of the best All Blacks performers in the 54-16 win over Wales was No 8 Ardie Savea, who was devastating with ball in hand and proved a handful for the Welsh defence to stop every time he touched the ball.
The versatile loose forward moved to the back of the scrum, which gave him more ball-carrying responsibility after starting against the Springboks at openside flanker during the Rugby Championship.
Having relinquished the captaincy badge to Sam Whitelock for the time being, Savea insisted that the role was not a burden for him after suggestions were made that it was taking a toll on the 28-year-old.
“Nah, I don’t think so. I think I saw your tweet, Mark, around me being captain and that taking a toll on me, and I just wanted to say it didn’t take a toll on me,” Savea told a reporter who asked if his leadership duties had impacted his game on Monday [NZT].
“I loved it and embraced it and I felt like the boys were right behind me, so it was the same for me.
“A lot of people can say that it was a burden, but it wasn’t. I love challenges and the honour to be able to lead the boys.
“Last night, I think I just found something that if you keep things simple in your mind and you just have fun and play and back yourself and back the process through the week, you can play like that.”
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Any difference in Savea’s on-field performance has to take into account switching between openside flank and No.8 as the roles require him to do different things for the side.
Savea said the challenge of switching between the two roles comes down to nailing his preparation during the week in order to feel comfortable on game day to go out and perform.
“I’m just loving playing footy and, I know for me, I pride myself on preparing well and making sure I can nail that role within the week so then I can just go and play freely,” he said.
“For me, it kind of doesn’t matter what position, I’m really grateful if I’m playing, and then I try and nail my week. Once I’ve done that, then I’m able to just have fun, have a smile on my face and just jam.
“I felt that last night, and I’m going to try and go with that over the next couple of games if I do get an opportunity, but it was awesome.”
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Savea impressed with his dominant charges into the Welsh line, which often saw the All Black give his side go-forward, and his quick pick-and-go’s around the ruck, which caught the opposition by surprise.
He came up with two key try assists, finding a smart offload for TJ Perenara to dive over and score as well as getting involved in the All Blacks counter-attack in the second half to provide the last pass for Sevu Reece on his try.
Savea said he just happened to be “in the right place at the right time” to help his side convert their try-scoring opportunities.
“Things happen so quickly in the game, and I know Plum [All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree] mentioned to me to try and get my hands on the ball if I can, so I just found myself in the right place at the right time.
“For me, it’s just, ‘Close my eyes, bite down on my mouthguard, and just go’. If you can stop me, stop me, but I’m just going to fight through it.”
New Zealand’s first test of the European tour against an understrength Wales side was about blowing out the rust, Savea said, with a number of the players not having any game time over the last four weeks.
With many first-time tourists in 2021, the experience was a new one for some of the younger All Blacks playing in front of a packed Cardiff crowd so the side went into the clash with a simple game plan.
“There were some of us that haven’t played footy in three or four weeks after South Africa, and then we played in Washington and there were some of us here that hadn’t played, so I think we used that week to try and get the rust out of us,” he said.
“We knew it was going to be a massive game, massive crowd for many of the players that have never played in front of a crowd like that, but we kind of just had a simple game plan and we wanted to nail the basics in our game.
“We thought we did that well.”
By Sam Smith, Rugbypass