Savea wins his battle with Tuilagi hands down

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 22:04 14/06/2014
Julian Savea
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WORLD CLASS: Julian Savea proved his worth to the All Blacks against England in Dunedin.
Julian Savea
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Julian Savea dives over to score in the second half, giving the All Blacks an 18-13 lead.

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Don't ever underestimate Julian Savea's influence on this All Blacks team because right now there's no better wing in world rugby.

In a match-up comparable to a heavyweight boxing contest, Savea won his battle with Manu Tuilagi hands down. It wasn't quite a knockout - more a dominant point's victory.

Twenty tries from 21 tests sums up Savea's clinical finishing ability. That's an incredibly valuable strike rate.

Give him an inch and his eyes light up like an expectant kid at Christmas. Put "The Bus" one-on-one with any opponent and he'll leave a bumper imprint. Just ask English wing Marland Yarde, who was on the receiving end of a typically ruthless bump.

Without Savea last week the All Blacks lacked options and their attack was predictable. They relied too much on Ma'a Nonu to punch over the advantage line. Compare Savea's efforts to the out-of-sorts Cory Jane tonight in Dunedin - the pair were poles apart. Nonu, too, played like a free man unburdened with the sole weight of providing go forward for his back division.

Returning from a knee injury for his first test of the season, Savea was near-faultless. He was hungry for work - an obstruction penalty preventing him busting through a hole in the first half. And he only grew in confidence.

After Aaron Cruden accelerated through a gap, and threw a perfectly-timed cut-out pass to expose an overlap Savea loomed up on the outside, swallowed the ball, drew fullback Mike Brown to send superb local hero Ben Smith over for the All Blacks' first strike.

Finishing personified; in one movement epitomising the dramatic improvement from Steve Hansen's men in the skill set department alone.

Indeed, Savea enjoys scoring against the Red Rose. His two tries proved the difference at Twickenham last year, and his meat pie in the corner sealed the series under the roof.

But what to make of Tuilagi's shift to the wing?

His staunch stare during the haka showed there was no lack of emotion or intent. After that, though, it is hard not to suggest he was completely wasted on the edge.

Familiarity at this level makes a major difference. Moving Tuilagi to the wing was always a massive gamble from Stuart Lancaster; the idea being England would be better with their established Six Nations midfield, Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell.

Tuilagi hadn't featured on the wing for three years - not since his time with the English under-20s. And for the most part his destructive abilities were invisible.

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Not once did we see his menacing runs that were so prominent during the previous three tests against the All Blacks. Lancaster will rue the audacious ploy as a blown chance to utilise his best backline weapon. It will be a huge surprise if Tuilagi remains out of position for the final test in Hamilton next week.

As expected, the Samoan-born Englishman was terrorised all evening with kicks forcing him to turnaround his hulking frame.

But it was when he scooped up a Jane fumble that the move really bombed. Yes Ben Smith pulled off a sublime cover tackle to prevent a try, but Tuilagi's lack of pace for the wing was evident for all to see.

In many ways it was the turning point. Tuilagi scores and the All Blacks were seriously under the pump.

If Lancaster considers using Tuilagi on the wing again, perhaps he should hand the big man a tape of Savea's exploits to date.

There certainly couldn't be a better case study.

- Stuff

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