THE MAN THE All Blacks have dubbed “The Bus”, Julian Savea, announced himself on the world rugby stage with a hat-trick of tries on his debut in an emphatic 42-10 win over Ireland on Saturday.
The powerful Savea, a former IRB junior player of the year, who has been compared in the New Zealand media to rugby legend Jonah Lomu, was near unstoppable against Ireland as he steam-rolled his way down the left wing.
His first touch of the ball was a moment to forget when it spilled from his hands — but from there he was rock-solid.
And the 21-year-old did not just demonstrate a knack for finding the try-line. He also made a bone-jarring tackle on Rob Kearney that turned the impetus of the game midway through the first half.
With Ireland dictating the terms in the opening exchanges, and the All Blacks clinging to a 6-3 lead, Savea floored Kearney with a head-on tackle which earned his team a third penalty.
From there the gap began to widen, and when Savea scored his first try a few minutes later to put the All Blacks up 16-3 with the conversion, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll could see the writing on the wall.
When asked what was most satisfying, the three tries or that tackle, Savea was in no doubt about the answer.
“That tackle obviously, and then that second action of getting up and winning that penalty. I thought that was pretty good,” said the wing who stands 1.92 metres tall and weighs 103 kilograms.
When he was called into the All Blacks squad, the unassuming Savea admitted to being “nervous, star struck really” about being in the company of his heroes, such as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
He’s also uncomfortable being compared to the legend Lomu and other All Blacks greats such as Sitiveni Sivivatu, who scored four tries on debut, and Christian Cullen, who scored three.
“I guess what’s happened has happened,” he said of his performance.
“I’ve just got to move on and not dwell on the past and just keep doing what I’ve been doing and hope it pans out like this.”
New All Blacks backs coach Ian Foster said he was impressed with the way Savea reads the game.
“Clearly, he’s got strengths of speed and power and his evasion skills are pretty good,” Foster said.
“But in the shed afterwards, the thing I praised him for probably wasn’t for the three tries, it was the first kick that Carter put down the line and they ran back at him and Julian just smashed them and created a penalty and three points.”
New All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith, singled out by head coach Steve Hanson as “simply outstanding”, deflected the praise towards Savea.
“It was good to see The Bus get over the line three times. He’s a good man to watch running around and they’re the guys you want to see running in tries.”
O’Driscoll, meanwhile, admitted the game turned on two pieces of brilliance by Savea which enabled the All Blacks to start dictating the flow of the game.
“They went 9-3 then all of a sudden they got the try and people start relaxing a little bit when they have a 16-3 scoreline — your passes start sticking a bit more and you can get into the rhythm a little bit better.
“Any team I’ve been in that’s in the ascendancy, that’s exactly what you try and do. You try building the score and then you get the try and it just helps you kick on for the rest of the game.”
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