Julian Savea has smarts to go with the size

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:05 15/03/2013
Julian Savea
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CRUNCH: Julian Savea leaves a lasting impression on Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg.

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Julian Savea isn't the first big, powerful wing to run amok in a Hurricanes jersey.

The inevitable comparisons with Jonah Lomu grew louder after Savea brought the Westpac Stadium crowd to its feet last Friday night.

He steamrollered Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg and thumped centre Robbie Fruean in a front-on tackle in a performance for the ages.

But does the Rongotai Rhino really justify all the fuss?

Savea, at 1.92m and 103kg, isn't the first giant Polynesian wing to turn opponents into roadkill with his brute strength.

Va'aiga "Inga the Winger" Tuigamala barrelled through plenty of outside backs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Lomu, a scary 1.96m and 117kg in his heyday, made it an art form a decade later.

But with due respect to Hosea Gear's considerable talents, nobody since "Jonah" in his pomp has been able to make such a physical imprint on a match over 80 minutes in the way Savea did against the Crusaders.

Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith gave an insight this week into why he believes New Zealand rugby is witnessing something a bit special.

Smith said he had been impressed since the start of the year, and particularly liked the way Savea was reaping the rewards for his hard work.

"People see the workrate out on the field but that's the result of the hard work he's been doing in the off-season.

"A power athlete like him posting the yo-yo and fitness results he was in pre-season, I knew he was in for a good year.

"He's just become an All Black and there is always the chance guys will relax, but he's done the right thing and worked even harder.

"That's the results you are seeing in the games."

At 22 years old, Savea has scored 12 tries in nine tests for the All Blacks and, after going tryless during his debut season, has now dotted down 11 times in his last 16 Super Rugby matches.

"I didn't play with Jonah a lot. I think I played one game against him and had a few training runs against him," Smith said.

"I suppose that comparison is always going to happen with any big wing in New Zealand and there are a few around.

"But I just love Julian's workrate. There are a lot of guys of similar size and speed, but to then match it with a work ethic and rugby smarts, that's when you get that all-round player who can become a handful.

"Other countries are doing the same [with big wings], but they get found out when they don't do the work. There are a few who have come along and had a good half-season or full season then don't carry on.

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"You have to have more to your game than just being able to bust tackles and Julian's proven that already. It's exciting for us."

And so to Dunedin tonight where the Big Bus, as he's known to his teammates, clips its next ticket.

Savea will have his own hands full against livewire wing Kade Poki, but spare a thought for the Highlanders man who will give away 11kg and 16cm to his opposite.

It's a fitting venue for the spotlight to shine on Savea considering it was a year ago that he broke Highlanders hearts by fending his way through the line in the final minutes to spur the Hurricanes to a 26-20 win.

An equally close match is expected but, whatever the result, Savea is sure to have the Forsyth Barr Stadium crowd on the edge of their seats.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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