Ardie Savea Interview: New Zealand need to start picking players overseas

Ardie Savea has confirmed he will be available for the All Blacks’ summer series against England even as he warned the New Zealand Rugby Union needs to overhaul its policy on overseas players.

World Rugby Player of the Year Savea signed for the Kobelco Kobe Steelers in Japan’s Rugby One following last year’s World Cup under a union-sanctioned sabbatical that will enable new All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson to select him for Test two. series against England.

At the same time as the Rugby Football Union’s battle to keep England players from moving to France, the NZRU is struggling to resist the economic pulls from the Japanese and French leagues for its top stars.

But Savea believes that having a complete ban on selecting overseas players is getting old, citing the example of the Springboks, who have won the World Cup and have a significant part of their squad based outside of South Africa.

“I think there is a country that has been proven to work and help them, and that is South Africa,” Savea said. “Most of their teams play here, and they come together to win the World Cup.

“I don’t think it’s going to change much, but if there was one thing I think, it’s something that needs to evolve and grow in this space, and in this area.

“What that will look like I’m not sure, but I think things have to change. I know it won’t change overnight, but it needs to change.”

Savea suggested the NZRU needed fresh ideas to keep pace with a changing world.

“Times are changing, things are moving fast, the world is moving, everything is moving,” he said. “Things that worked five, 10, 15 years ago can’t work now, and I think we have to be innovative and smart about what we’re doing.

“I think we need something, and maybe that’s the new coaching group, the management, bringing fresh ideas. That could be it. I have no idea, I’m just talking off the top of my head, but I think things have to change and develop, either immediately or over time.”

Ardie Savea scores a try despite Ireland's James Lowe in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finalArdie Savea scores a try despite Ireland's James Lowe in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final

Savea says he had “little” interaction with Robertson, who succeeded Ian Foster after the All Blacks beat South Africa. When asked if he is ready to withdraw the silver fern, Savea said: “We will wait and see. I have to make the squad first. So far it has been mentally refreshing. Hopefully that will pay dividends when it comes to All Blacks selection.”

If he was selected then he would make a very interesting addition to Ben Earl who has been a great player in England for the past 12 years. When asked to assess Earl and England’s form in the Six Nations, Savea had little to think about. “Nah I’m sorry,” Savea said. “Not to sound disrespectful, I take some highlights on Instagram, but man, one thing with me is that I train, I play, I do my analysis and after that, there’s no rugby. I learn from him.”

This is not a little personal towards England. Despite being considered by many judges to be the best player in the world, Savea is not a player who is obsessed with the game. His singular focus on rugby ends when he leaves the training environment. “I’ve always been like that,” Savea said. “Everyone is different and everyone has their own way of how they want to be the best. I know what I need to do to be the best and then from there the best thing is to be away from the game. It allows me to clear my mind and when you’re free and you play instinctive rugby and that’s how I’ve been performing like that.”

To that end, the 30-year-old’s move to Japan as he escapes New Zealand’s rugby goldfish bowl has been a boon. “I didn’t know what was going into Japan,” Savea said. “I thought I had played 10 seasons of Super Rugby, and I wanted to try something different. Now that I’m here I’m like ‘damn I needed this’. I want to go back to Super Rugby, do the same thing, and be as familiar with everything.

“Unbeknownst to me, it was so fresh and so good to be here, even I had different coaches like Rens. [Dave Rennie] and other foreign coaches in the team, how they train, what they see. I’m just learning and picking their brains, which has been really exciting. Hopefully I can look back in a year or two, and being here has been a good benefit, career-wise.

“The biggest luxury for me here – and no disrespect to the fans or stuff – but over here if Kobe lost three games somehow the fans will still be turning up at our stadium with the signs and the posters. They still love us, regardless of whether we win, lose or draw. Over in New Zealand, if you lose one game then they’re like ‘drop his ass’. You just scroll through Facebook and you see an article where you’re tempted not to read the comments but you read the comments and they say ‘this guy is disgusting, get off his ass’. You don’t have any of that in Japan.”

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