Tough road back for Savea

Julian Savea in his most recent test for the All Blacks against the British and Irish Lions....
Julian Savea in his most recent test for the All Blacks against the British and Irish Lions. Photo: Getty Images
It's not necessarily the end of Julian Savea's All Blacks career, but he faces a tough road back to the No11 jersey he virtually made his own after scoring a hat-trick of tries on his test debut five years ago.

Savea's form dip, and the return to fitness of Nehe Milner-Skudder, have contrived to see the man who has scored a remarkable 46 tries in 54 tests left out of the All Blacks' Rugby Championship squad.

Savea, who turned 27 on Monday, was upset by the news of his omission, said coach Steve Hansen.

Hansen added the big wing would be spoken to again in a few days in order to get a plan in place for a possible return.

But the comeback from injury by Hurricanes teammate Milner-Skudder, a star at last World Cup, emergence of Blues player Rieko Ioane and continued form of Highlander Waisake Naholo and recent Super Rugby championship winner Israel Dagg suggests Savea will only be considered as an injury replacement in the short to medium term.

"I think you've summed it up - it's pretty hard news to hear," Hansen said at the announcement of his 33-player squad at Christchurch's Burnside Rugby Club.

"I think anybody who has played for the All Blacks and is desperate to play for the All Blacks and has been given time in the group is going to be disappointed and you want them to be disappointed otherwise they're not the right people for your team.

"He has done a lot in the jersey - he has enhanced it while he's worn it.

"As I said before, his time's not over. When you speak to these guys, you don't have big conversations, you don't stay on the phone for a long time because they don't want to be on the phone.

"They only hear one thing and they hear nothing else. We've organised to talk to him again later in the week when he'll be a bit better [and] ready to hear the messages and there are some good messages to give him."

Milner-Skudder, who scored a try in the World Cup final but has had serious shoulder and leg injuries since, is a point of difference with his quick feet. "We've got Waisake, we've got Rieko and we've had Julian, who are all big men, big wingers, so Nehe is a little bit different in that he's electric on his feet," Hansen said. "He brings a different type of game for us."

Chiefs player Damian McKenzie has been brought into the squad as a utility player who can cover fullback and first-five. With Ben Smith opting to take a break after the first two tests against Australia, starting in Sydney a week on Saturday, McKenzie will vie with Israel Dagg for the No15 jersey.

With Aaron Cruden departing, Hansen has named only two specialist first-fives in Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga.

Hansen said Crusaders first-five Richie Mo'unga was on the selectors' radar, as was midfielder Jack Goodhue, named as injury cover for the Lions series.

"He did everything right," Hansen said of Goodhue after naming Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown as his midfielders. "He's a player of high quality, I thought he was outstanding in the final. He's come pretty close but you've got four guys ahead of him who are pretty outstanding rugby players."

Hansen, who has named Chiefs prop Atu Moli as an "apprentice" who will train with the squad in New Zealand, also paid credit to the Crusaders' achievements in beating the Lions at Ellis Park for their eighth Super Rugby title.

"It [winning a title abroad] has only been done once before - in Canberra which is not quite as far as Jo'burg," Hansen said. "It's a tremendous effort and you could see in that last 20 minutes they were absolutely stonkered and running out of petrol. They just hung on, didn't they, and it meant a lot to them.

"To be able to win away from home on the Highveld is some achievement so they should be very proud."

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