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Savea is on target for All Black greatness

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012
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TRY TIME: : If Julian Savea maintains his strike rate for tries, he will probably become an All Black legend

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In case you missed it, Julian Savea is in good company.

Make that the pantheon of great company.

Eight tries from six tests is a phenomenal record for any wing, let alone one still striving to make his mark at this level.

Any cricketer would gladly take Savea's 133 per cent strike-rate.

At present, he's consistently clearing the fence.

Sure, it's still early days, but if the "Black Bus", as he's known to team-mates, can maintain his clinical finishing prowess, he will rank among All Blacks legends.

Savea has scored more tries than Jonah Lomu, Doug Howlett and Jeff Wilson, and is equal with Christian Cullen and Sitiveni Sivivatu, at the same stage of their stellar test careers.

Only freakish Fijian flier Joe Rokocoko, with 11 tries in his first six tests, has taken a greater haul. By the end of their time Cullen and Howlett had the best strike-rates of the All Blacks' top try-scorers (79 per cent).

Initially, Savea had many critics. Now, as he prepares to start alongside Hosea Gear against Italy in Rome on Sunday morning, there is no denying his ability.

He ran rampant against Ireland and Argentina this year, scoring five tries in three tests, and, despite not touching the ball for the first 20 minutes in Edinburgh last week, completed an impressive brace.

Coping with sudden promotion is often a daunting task for young All Blacks.

Savea was no different. He is shy at heart.

In Rome this week, his transformation is obvious. Savea is no longer overwhelmed. He doesn't need home comforts to bust a move - his Dougie (an American dance move) is well worth a watch.

Speaking to the media in Italy, with three TV cameras pointed in his face, the 22-year-old took it all in his stride. There was a time, in that situation, he would have clammed up.

For the first time, Savea feels he belongs in the All Blacks. With that new-found belief greater things are possible, just as they were for the aforementioned superstars.

"I'm a lot more comfortable than the start. I'm enjoying every moment as well. I will never forget this," he said.

"Talent will only get you so far and if you don't work hard you're going to stay in the same spot. I've learnt so much this year."

It hasn't been an entirely smooth ride for Savea. And, he hasn't yet cemented a starting spot as Steve Hansen gradually monitors his development this season, casually rotating him with Gear.

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"It creates an edge. Every time I get a break I'm always hungry to get back in there," Savea said. "It would be the same for Hosea. We're helping each other quite a lot."

While Savea has the inside running to start against Wales next week, a blinder from Gear on the right wing at Stadio Olimpico could be enough to impress Hansen.

"We haven't played together since last year in the Hurricanes. He's a pretty powerful winger.

"I wouldn't want to play opposite him," Savea said of Gear.

Coupled with his new public persona and a lift in confidence, Savea's skills and vision have evolved.

Before making the All Blacks he mostly played on the right wing, where he often tried too hard. There is a sense that the more he trusts his natural talents, the more he will feel at home in the black jersey.

"I never used to step off my left," he reveals. "I'm still working on the high ball - that's a given. I'm just trying to get involved, get a lot of touches of the ball or make tackles and chase kicks.

"You don't want to go chasing the game, try to do something special and throw a 50/50 pass. It comes down to patience and waiting for the right time. You've got to find other ways."

There is more than a hint of irony in those sentiments.

Savea has stopped chasing the game and instead, it has started chasing him.

- The Dominion Post

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