When you’re talking about influential New Zealand players, you can’t get past Julian Savea. The winger has had an incredible tournament and a try in the Rugby World Cup Final against Australia on Saturday (4.00pm KO) will take him up to nine for the competition – passing legendary All Black Jonah Lomu and South African Bryan Habana’s joint record of eight at a single tournament.
Savea is an absolute beast, and he can draw a defender away from what they should be doing because they know they can’t afford not to pick him up. He has pace and size, but he’s not just a big lumbering block, he’s incredibly smart as well.
Comparing Lomu and Savea is huge. Jonah Lomu is one of the greats of his time – he scored seven tries in the 1995 World Cup and eight in 1999 which is phenomenal. But players are getting bigger and physically stronger now, so the fact Savea can still have such a devastating impact is testament to just how top-quality he is.
Who is better? Well, they’re in different eras. Jonah Lomu growing up made such a big impact because nobody had ever seen a player like him, he exploded onto the world stage in the 1995 World Cup. Savea is doing fantastically well in the modern game, he’s got a staggering 38 test tries from 39 caps, while Lomu had 37 tries from 63 caps.
Savea is a fantastic player who is doing big things, and he will want to be known as ‘Julien Savea’ rather than carry the comparison. He is one of the best wingers in the world and he is making his own mark.
The Wizards in Oz
Australia have to concentrate on their own game in the lead up to their showdown with New Zealand in Twickenham, because they’ve been excellent so far. They’ve slowed the games down, their backs have attacked with speed, and coach Michael Cheika has 1-23 playing rugby. Although it’s the same skillset as previous teams, they’re playing with a different stance and different patterns because of the excellent coaching. The Aussies beat New Zealand 27-19 in the Rugby Championship in August to end a bad head-to-head run, so the players know the All Blacks are beatable. It’s not impossible. The Australians have to take that confidence into the game, because they certainly have the ability to win the Web Ellis trophy in London.
David Pocock and Michael Hooper have been outstanding for the Aussies. Pocock has probably been the player of the tournament, and his ability to turn the ball over quickly has been a devastating weapon for Australia. The whole Aussie back row have been impressive, but don’t think for one second that New Zealand’s Richie McCaw – a man with 148 international caps – won’t have a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with them on Saturday.
Dan’s the man to lift the trophy
But to win this World Cup, it will take a massive collective effort from both teams. It’s difficult to say which one player could step up and decide the clash, because there are so many important match ups all over the field. Once again it will be a battle of wits, and a battle of the fly-halves as Dan Carter and Bernard Foley try to dictate the game.
Dan Carter has to be up there with one of the best number 10s of all time. Look at the points he has accumulated, and the longevity of his career – he has 111 international caps and close to 1,600 points. He has the ability to communicate across the line and keep the back line moving, pulling the strings. Carter is probably one of the most complete players to have ever played the game.
The form says to side with New Zealand in the final, but it’s a dangerous game writing of Australia. It’s going to be extremely tight.
Sam Burgess – Should He Stay or Should He Go?
Sam Burgess is rightly going to do what makes him happy – whether that’s staying in Rugby Union with Bath or going back to Rugby League and joining South Sydney Rabbitohs. Everything he does is with 100 per cent of his ability, and he can be very proud of that. I have nothing but respect for him and what he’s achieved.
It’s difficult coming from Rugby League to Rugby Union, not necessarily because of the skillset, but because of the distances you play in. There’s a shorter distance and ball retention isn’t guaranteed in Union, so there’s a couple of things you have to learn. Sam Burgess picked these things up very quickly. He did a great job at Bath and played well for England.
People can make what they want of his decision, but Burgess had a good tournament at the World Cup. He was brought in by England to do a job and he played well against Wales before making a good impact coming off the bench against Australia – particularly as that was a tough clash to come into with England 11 points down and just 15 minutes left. There’s a lot of questions to be answered if Sam is made a scapegoat for what happened.