Ardie Savea is being managed "outstandingly" by the Hurricanes, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who says fans should have patience with the young openside.
After touring with the All Blacks as an apprentice at the end of last year, Savea was expected to be a star in Super Rugby this season.
Instead he has had just two starts over the opening seven weeks and found himself playing club rugby for Oriental Rongotai last weekend when the Hurricanes were playing the Bulls in Napier.
Hansen said Savea's workload looked about right for a 20-year-old loose forward and pointed to All Black openside Sam Cane's career as an example of similarly sensible management.
"The first thing people need to understand is Ardie wasn't an All Black. He came on the trip as an opportunity for a young man to see how the All Blacks prepare and develop their game strategy during the week and to learn how he could grow into the player we potentially think he could be," Hansen said yesterday.
"He's very young and he still has a lot of growing to do from a physical point of view and mentally he has a few things to develop.
"I think the Hurricanes have handled him outstandingly well. Bear in mind he is still only 20. The best of Ardie will be when he's 23-24 and he's finished his physical development. Then he can go out and sustain performances week-in, week-out."
Hansen said it would be irresponsible for a Super Rugby coach to be starting such a young athlete every week.
"If we were putting him out week-in, week-out right now in the Super Rugby competition, which is extremely physical, then we wouldn't be doing him a service.
"Mark [Hammett] has done a great job. He's growing him as a player and a man appropriately. From a fan's point of view they see this young man at ITM Cup level who is so outstanding, but they have to understand the next level up is a massive jump.
"It takes time and you are better to take time with these quality people so they have a long career rather than a short, flashy one."
Hansen said Cane's development showed the benefits of a longer term development.
"Sam was very much the same. He was around the Chiefs from about the age of 16-17 and they took their time and they are still in a position where they can help him manage his work load.
"They use Lats [Tanerau Latimer] to share the load. Openside flankers have a massive workrate in any given game and its a long competition. To do it week-in, week-out you have to have the ability to step out and take a breather, particularly when you are a young athlete."
As a 19-year-old in his first year of Super Rugby in 2011, Cane made just one start and four appearances from the bench. Even as an All Black in 2012 he started only six matches.
Savea is following a similar curve with two starts last year and one appearance as a substitute, and so far two starts, against the Cheetahs and Highlanders, and three appearances off the bench.
He has also had to take a back seat so far to openside Jack Lam and blindside Faifili Levave who are both in exceptional form.
Meanwhile, Hansen said he was not losing sleep over Chiefs first five-eighth Aaron Cruden's thumb injury.
"Crudes is clearly the incumbent with Dan [Carter] being on sabbatical, so there is a concern he has an injury, but it looks like its a six to eight-weeker and that should give him enough time to be back for the [June] test matches," he said.
Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade, and Tom Taylor provided proven alternatives, while Lima Sopoaga's form at the Highlanders was pleasing, he said.
Hansen also noted Cruden's likely replacement at the Chiefs, Gareth Anscombe had not been forgotten.
"I assume it'll be Anscombe who plays there for the Chiefs and its a massive opportunity for him. There's been some question marks about his physicality in the past, but now he gets to answer those questions and that's a positive for him."
- Fairfax Media
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