There’s a classic line in the movie The Princess Bride where Wallace Shawn’s character, Vizzini – a villain of self-proclaimed super intellect, says that it is “inconceivable” that the Dread Pirate Roberts will foil his complex plan.
He then utters the word again and again as his plan completely unravels and is eventually called out by Inigo Montoya who says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Similarly, by the end of Super Rugby, most New Zealand fans would have thought that it was inconceivable that Julian Savea might miss the Rugby World Cup squad. He was a powerhouse all through the competition, bumping players around like a pinball machine and scoring seven tries in the process. His tackling stats were slightly down, but his attacking prowess more than made up for that.
In a crowded outside back category, most Kiwi fans would have had Savea and Ben Smith locked in as their World Cup certainties with Charles Piutau and Israel Dagg possibly taking the final two positions.
There has been a lot of armchair scorn thrown on Dagg with most thinking that his position is the most tenuous at best, but perhaps Savea is the man with the most to lose at this stage.
Of the other contenders in the original squad, Waisake Naholo has since succumbed to a broken leg, Cory Jane has been all but forgotten also due to injury and it was assumed that Nehe Milner-Skudder wouldn’t be taken because of his rookie status. That, however, may have all changed after New Zealand’s Bledisloe Cup loss on the weekend.
Milner-Skudder made the most of his chance and although being unsighted for long periods of the game, when he got the ball, he made it count, scoring two tries on debut and putting a lot of doubt into the minds of the Australian defenders with his electric footwork.
Savea, on the other hand, looked slow and ponderous.
Michael Hooper is a fantastic defender, but he may be the only person who has ever stopped Savea from scoring from 10 metres out and only one defender to beat.
There has been noise out of the All Blacks recently that Savea went on an eating rampage after Super Rugby finished and turned up to the camps out of shape and overweight. In fact, the reason he hasn’t been sighted in the Rugby Championship yet is because he has been on a three-week conditioning program to try and shed the weight.
Steve Hansen made mention of this in the lead up to the game saying “He’s pretty hungry, and I don’t mean for food, I mean for a game. And that’s a good place to have him because when he’s like that he’s a pretty handy footballer.”
On the evidence of the Bledisloe game, he still has more work to do.
The same criticisms that were levelled at Israel Dagg should now be applied to Savea. The All Blacks have said that Dagg was short on game time and needed to build form – his results in doing that have been mixed and after seeing Savea play, the same can be said.
Of course, it’s only one game, but is it possible that Savea could be in the firing line with Milner-Skudder taking his place?
Hopefully Savea doesn’t have the egotistical arrogance of Vizzini, but there is so much talent in the All Black outside backs that he needs to up his game with what time he has left.