New Hurricanes recruit Ardie Savea has been likened to All Blacks legend Michael Jones by the coaching staff that secured his signature.
Four days short of his 19th birthday, the dynamic openside flanker and New Zealand Sevens rep yesterday became the 26th Hurricane signed for the next Super Rugby season. Having agreed to a two-year deal, he'll join elder brother Julian in coach Mark Hammett's 2013 squad as the odds rapidly shorten on the pair wearing All Blacks jerseys together.
Hurricanes and Wellington assistant coach Richard Watt said Savea added a new dimension, and was adamant he was ready.
“He brings something else to a seven role with his sheer athleticism and pace. He's almost a throwback to the Michael Jones-type seven," Watt said.
"He's got some pretty special qualities. He has that sheer pace and he's pretty brave and doesn't mind sticking his head in the dark places when he gets there."
Watt spied Savea at Rongotai College when he was carving up at second five-eighth. And it only took a few minutes with the big boys, in this year's non-competition match against the Reds, to show Super Rugby held no fears for the teenager.
"I got a hint he was ready when we took him over to Mooloolaba to play the Reds. He ran on at halftime and the first scrum the ball squirted out and he pounced on it and shoved the nine off and ran around the 10 and scored by the posts. That was his first touch for the Hurricanes."
Well grounded and with an excellent work ethic, Watt said Savea will serve an apprenticeship with fellow No 7s Jack Lam and Karl Lowe.
"The main work-on for him will be his body shape and putting a few more kilos on his frame. He's about 97kg at the moment and most of the sevens running around at that level are 100-plus."
Savea scored six tries in a barnstorming first eight NPC games for Wellington but claims he was surprised to be summoned to Hammett's office a fortnight ago.
He still lives at home and told his supportive parents, Masina and Lina, that night. After Julian arrived back from South Africa, Ardie broke it to his proud brother over a family dinner on Tuesday.
"It's quite unreal. I didn't think any of this would happen so fast."
Savea's grown up quickly in the past year, after playing sevens for New Zealand and debuting for Wellington. And he takes the responsibility of being a rugby pro seriously.
"Being young you like to go out and party, go into town and do a lot of stuff. Being professional you have to watch what you do now and that's a big step. Physically I need to be up there because Super 15 is a whole new level. I have this window to physically get up there. I've just got to be smart with what [food] I buy because I like to just go out and get takeaways."
While Savea says he's given little thought to a potential All Blacks call-up, another black jersey has piqued his interest. He wants to continue his sevens career when an Olympic gold medal is on the line in four years time.
"It's been in the back of my mind. I thought about that, I'd love to go to Rio and be part of the Olympics and the sevens team. But at the moment it's just ITM Cup."
And a match against Taranaki to star in, at Westpac Stadium on Sunday.
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