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By The Numbers – Julian Savea’s Fall From Grace

When Julian Savea topped the 2015 Rugby World Cup try scoring charts with eight tries in six matches, I thought I was witnessing the becoming of a player who could go down as the greatest winger to have ever played the game.

With 39 tries in 42 Tests for the All Blacks, Savea trails only Japan’s Daisuke Ohata as the only player to have a better try to game ratio than the New Zealand wing.

Savea’s 92% try scoring rate is by far and away the best record among players from Tier 1 nations and even more telling of his proficiency from the wing, the All Blacks have lost just one game in four years when Savea has scored a try.

His rise in international rugby has been meteoric over the last four years and if he gets anywhere near 100 caps for the All Blacks he will surely smash Ohata’s all-time try scoring record, but for now, his main goal is getting back into New Zealand’s starting XV.

Savea was dropped  from the All Blacks starting XV this week after New Zealand coach Steve Hansen described the Wellington native’s performance as ‘clunky’ and ‘wooden’ and that he wants Savea to revert back to  his ‘instinctive’ best.

“We want the instinctive Jules. When he’s like that he hurts people,” Hansen told reporters [per the42] after naming his team for the second test in Wellington this Saturday.

“When you see them training really well but then you see them have a performance which is clunky and pretty wooden, you can usually tell without having to be a psychologist that there’s something going on.”

All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster expanded on Hansen’s assessment by claiming that Savea needs to get into better shape for him to get back into the side.

“He hasn’t come into this campaign on great form and it didn’t really go his way, to a certain degree, last week,” Foster told reporters [per Bangkok Post].

“But he’s just taking it day by day and getting better and better, so it’s just all part of getting him back to the shape that we really need him to be in.”

Savea’s gaudy numbers would suggest that a player of his calibre  is virtually undroppable in any rugby side, but the All Blacks play by a different set of rules. They don’t make exceptions, even if it’s for exceptional players.

If your form, fitness, or attitude slides in any way, shape or form, you are replaceable, but that’s not to say they’re not willing to give you a chance, they are, and in Savea’s case this is the second time he has tested Hansen’s patience and the third time in the last year his fitness has been questioned.

Prior to last year’s Rugby World Cup in England, Savea turned up to the All Blacks pre-Rugby Championship training camp out of shape and overweight.

He was reportedly put on a three week training programme by All Blacks conditioning coach Nic Gill, and although he did not feature in the All Blacks first two games against Argentina and South Africa, he returned for the game against the Wallabies and went on to have one of the greatest individual tournaments in rugby history.

After narrowly missing out on being named the World Rugby Player of the Year last year, questions surrounding Savea’s fitness raised their ugly head again when the player was dropped from the Hurricanes Round 5 tie with the Kings back in March.

Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said via stuff.co.nz that “it would be fair to say in that month or six weeks post World Cup, that he probably wasn’t as disciplined as he could’ve been around keeping up some of his work.”

Whatever lens you want to look through in analysing Savea’s performances this season, whether it be his lack of discipline, fitness, or form, the numbers suggest that he is not the same player he was last season.

The 25-year-old was second in all of Super Rugby  last year for linebreaks and third across the competition in metres made and defenders beaten, in a season where the Hurricanes made it to the Super Rugby final only to lose narrowly to the champion Highlanders.

[Source – NZ Herald Stats Centre]

However, this season Savea doesn’t rank even in the top ten in any of the same categories.

Furthermore his carries per game have dropped from 10 to 9.3 while his metres per carry have also dipped from 7.91 to 6.29 per game.

Meanwhile his linebreaks have also dropped from a high 1.81 to 1 per game while defenders beaten have also dropped from 3.81 to 2.9.

His try scoring ratio has remained the same as last year with one try in every two games, but his numbers across the board have pretty much dropped in every category bar turnovers conceded [2.06 to 1.8] and tackle success [61% to 65%].

Savea has too much quality, skill and raw talent to be kept out of the All Blacks side for long, but as was the case with Israel Dagg last year, you never want to give someone else an opportunity in black.

Ironically, it is now Dagg who replaces Savea this weekend and the form guide suggests it’s more than justified.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.