Rookie All Blacks wing Julian Savea has been named one of five players of the year by the 2013 Rugby Almanack.
The Wellington and Hurricanes youngster joins established stars Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg as the standout players of the New Zealand scene.
The almanack, now in its 79th edition, was lavish in its praise of Savea.
It noted that two years ago it had honoured him with one of its promising-player tags and was delighted to elevate him to the list of stars for an outstanding debut season in the All Blacks jersey.
Savea scored three tries on debut against Ireland and went on to score 12 tries in nine tests.
"He hit Europe like a storm scoring six tries in four test matches - a feat not achieved by an All Black on a European tour previously," wrote the almanack editors Clive Akers and Geoff Miller.
"Scoring 21 tries in 22 first class matches is a measure of a very good season from Julian Savea. He has demonstrated that he is willing to learn - so we can expect many more."
Savea's younger brother Ardie (Wellington) was named one of the almanack's five promising players of the year, along with Dominic Bird (Canterbury), Jamison Gibson-Park (Taranaki), Jordan Taufua (Tasmn/Canterbury) and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Wellington).
The alamanack's New Zealand XV was an All Blacks replica: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
In their editorial, the authors praised the All Blacks ability to hold their dominance of the international scene in the wake of their World Cup triumph in 2011.
But the editors gave the All Blacks a dressing down on one front.
"Last November at Twickenham, the most traditional stadium in the rugby world, we saw both the All Blacks and, later, the Black Ferns line up in front of the stands for the anthems. Most had their socks up, but some had their socks around their ankles," they noted.
"The All Blacks are one of the most-admired and respected sporting teams in the world, even by members of the royal family, but untidy appearances during the anthems is puzzling for many New Zealanders.
"Correctness on how the uniform is presented and worn has always been a part of team discipline and it is concerning to see an increasing number of players running on to the field with socks down. We look forward to seeing an improvement in presentation during 2013."
The editors also noted with frustration the way New Zealand's five Super Rugby teams wore away uniforms, describing it as "confusing for the viewer".
The expanding rugby calendar also drew their attention.
"There is no longer a season for rugby - no long can rugby be regarded a winter sport," they said.
"In 2012 there were only seven weekends (three in January, one in February and three in December) when there was no rugby to watch."
That resulted in the rugby public being more selective in the number of matches they attended or watched on TV.
The editors also lamented the growing lack of All Blacks involvement in the lower levels of the New Zealand game.
"Ever since Super Rugby commenced in 1996, leading players had little or no involvement in club rugby," they said.
"Now we see current All Blacks taking no part in provincial rugby. Keven Mealamu has not worn his provincial jersey since 2008, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw since 2009, and Sam Whitelock and Ma'a Nonu since 2010.
"New All Blacks are chosen from Super Rugby. National coach Steve Hansen has said that the standard of ITM Cup rugby is not of sufficient standard to accurately gauge a player's readiness for international rugby."
The editors suggested this situation raised questions over the value of contracting stars by the provinces.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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