The announcement of the All Blacks 23 man squad to take on the Lions was one of the most anticipated in recent New Zealand rugby history.
The British and Irish Lions tour New Zealand once every 12 years. Fans have been waiting anxiously for months, if not years for Saturday. When the test team was released to the public, all seemed happy. The team reflects the expectation of fans, bar the exclusion of incumbent winger Julian Savea.
“WE HAD A LOOK AT WHAT WE’RE AFTER, AND WE LOOKED AT THE WHOLE SEASON, AND WE JUST FELT THAT RIEKO HAS BEEN THE GUY WHO HAS BEEN IN THE BEST FORM…THE PROOF WILL BE IN THE PUDDING.” – STEVEN HANSEN, ALL BLACKS COACH
Savea is ranked as one of the best try-scoring wingers in New Zealand rugby history. His record certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, but his exclusion is justified. After receiving chance after chance, Savea’s time is up. So up steps 20-year-old, Rieko Ioane.
Ioane burst onto the World Rugby scene via the Sevens circuit, where he stunned the world. His strong performances have translated to the fifteen man arena. Now selections in both the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks squads are the rewards for his efforts.
The primary role of wingers is to score tries. However, as the game has developed throughout the professional era, so has the job description of wingers. Size and pace don’t necessarily get you to the top, certainly not for long, as seen via the downfall of Savea. Other facets of your game have to stand out, hence why Ioane received the nod.
Julian Savea made an immediate impact on donning the All Black jersey, scoring three tries against Ireland on his debut. Despite not scoring hat-tricks every game, he averages nearly one per game, which is the best record of anyone within the top 10 test try scorers in NZ. He presently stands second, with an impressive 46 tries in 53 games. However, that simply is the Julian of old. This season, he has only scored six tries in 12 games in an underwhelming Super Rugby campaign.
Rieko Ioane, unlike Savea, is a player on the rise. Despite playing for a disappointing Super Rugby side in the Blues, he has dotted down on ten occasions this season.
Despite no statistics being available to properly cover this, it has become clear to all rugby fans, that Savea is a liability under the high ball. In the first test of the season against Samoa, Savea seemed lost. With the world-class kicking game of Conor Murray and Owen Farrell imminent, Steven Hansen certainly took that into consideration. It will surely be a huge part of the test match come Saturday, amplifying the need for Ioane simply off this criterion alone.
Savea stands at 1.92 metres and weighs a monstrous 105 Kgs. It’s no wonder why he was compared to the late Jonah Lomu when he burst onto the international scene. Despite his size, his attitude in defence prevents him from excelling physically. This season in Super Rugby, Savea has missed 11 tackles, which is three less than Ioane. This said Ioane has made an impressive 66 compared to 31 for Savea. Simply, Savea’s numbers in defence expose a potential weakness which doesn’t justify a black jersey.
Danger in attack
Savea has shown glimpses of the Savea of old, forcing 29 tackle busts and 13 line breaks. Both have contributed towards his 951 metres made across the season so far. However, this is another category that Ioane excels. 14 line breaks, 46 tackle busts and 1,282 metres made hasn’t gone unnoticed. He is ranked among the best in the league, while Savea is not at that level anymore.
Savea has been very inconsistent not just this season, but also seasons past. All Blacks coach Steven Hansen has given him every opportunity to regain form on a consistent basis, but it hasn’t clicked for Savea. Due to this, there can be no complaints regarding his exclusion from the test side this weekend. Ioane has been impressive, very impressive in fact, which is terrifying for opposing teams as he is just 20 years old. Savea will no doubt receive the chance to regain his place in the team once more, possibly even during the Lions tour, but Ioane’s selection in the first test is warranted. Overall, the stats don’t lie.
Author: Finn Morton
To say I’m obsessed with sport is an understatement. It was due to this passion that I realised a career in sports journalism was the way to go. I’m looking to spread my passion for sport whilst gaining some valuable experience.