This cannot be what Julian Savea imagined his autumn would look while he was lining up for the All Blacks against the touring British & Irish Lions team over the summer. At that point, it looked like Savea had locked down one of the wing positions for New Zealand, no mean feat given the level of competition for the spot and the wealth of talent that the Kiwis have cultivated out wide.
After starting the final Test for the All Blacks against the Lions back in July however, Savea has completely fallen out of favour with head coach Steve Hansen. That is how we have reached the situation where the player that has a greater strike rate than any other from a leading nation in the history of the game, will appear for the Barbarians AGAINST New Zealand on the first Saturday in November.
Fall from grace
It is stunning to think that Hansen could omit a player who has touched down 46 times in 54 Tests and not get more grief from the media. The ‘Bus’ is a lethal finisher, he is a runner who will commit – and then mow over defenders in a way few wingers have since Jonah Lomu in his prime. In many ways, the flashy Savea is the perfect winger for the Barbarians, it is just crazy that he will take the pitch against a team for which he has done so much damage for since his debut in 2012.
The All Blacks are travelling to the Northern Hemisphere with six recognised outside backs in the squad. Savea is not the only notable absentee – the touring party is also without Ben Smith (sabbatical), Israel Dagg, and Nehe Milner-Skudder (injury), but those players all featured much further into the Rugby Championship season.
Instead, the likes of David Havili (three caps), Seta Tamanivalu (three caps), and Matt Duffie (uncapped) will get their chance to shine and push for inclusion in bigger Tests next year. There is an argument that Savea isn’t on the plane because the coaching staff knows what he can do. That though would overlook the way he has been phased out over the last six months or so.
The Barbarians inclusion, however, suddenly makes this a huge autumn series for the 27-year-old. If he can play well and dominate against whichever Kiwi winger he faces, then he will make a strong case that he should have been involved in the touring party. If his play lets him down and he confirms the questions that Hansen has about his hands and his defensive unpredictability, then it may be hard for the supreme try scorer to fight his way back into the New Zealand First XV.
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