Crusaders devise strategies to stop 'The Bus'
Super Rugby's back this weekend. Who will win the two NZ conference games?
How will the Crusaders stop the Hurricanes' Julian "The Bus" Savea on Saturday night – short of nipping next door to swipe some harness-racing hopples from the Addington Raceway stables or grabbing a greyhound?
Savea showed his scary potential with three tries on debut in the All Blacks' first-test rout of Ireland at Auckland. The 2010 International Rugby Board's young player of the year wasn't so flash in his first outing at Addington in the second test and he paid the price when he was dropped for the third test in favour of Hosea Gear.
But the Crusaders will have to be on their mettle against a man who stands 1.92 metres and weighs 105 kilograms and ranks as the most physically imposing winger in New Zealand rugby since Jonah Lomu.
Just as well the home team have a biggish bloke of their own in the No 14 jumper – the 1.85 metre, 95kg Adam Whitelock.
Whitelock is a specialist midfield back and he brings that defensive diligence to his duties on the wing. His knees will hardly be knocking as he strives to catch The Bus.
He's mindful of the threat posed by Savea but believes there's a simple solution – starve him. The key, Whitelock says, is to strangle the supply of ball to the Hurricanes' backline.
"As we've seen, he's a big powerful runner," Whitelock said. "I think the key here is not letting them get the ball. That comes back to us holding the ball and shutting down any opportunities they get, and just get up and shut down his time and space.
"We know if he gets a bit of space, he's pretty fast, pretty powerful and hard to tackle. But if you're in their face, it's a lot harder."
An ankle injury may not allow Israel Dagg to line up against the Canes, but the All Black fullback is wary of the weaponry at new test team-mate Savea's disposal.
"He's a strong powerful runner and he's playing extremely well," Dagg said.
"We've got to put some pressure on them and try and keep their hands off the ball, really."
All Blacks backs coach Ian Foster was positively purring about Savea after his first demolition job on the Irish. But Foster also pointed out that the 21-year-old Wellingtonian is more than a one-trick try-scoring pony. He says Savea is as much a menace on defence as attack.
"In the shed afterwards [at Eden Park], the thing I praised him for probably wasn't for the three tries, it was the first kick that [Dan] Carter put down the line and they ran back at him and Julian just smashed them and created a penalty and three points."
However, Dagg is only too aware that Savea isn't the sole threat in the Hurricanes backline, having trained and played alongside Beauden Barrett and Conrad Smith in the All Blacks, and he rates Andre Taylor, who's "playing extremely well".
"We've got to keep playing our game, hold on to the ball and not do aimless kicks to them because they'll punish you."
- © Fairfax NZ News