Wellington – All Black coach Steve Hansen said on Thursday that Julian Savea’s axing was only temporary and the powerhouse wing would return once he was mentally refreshed.
Hansen dropped the 25-year-old from his squad for the second Test against Wales in Wellington on Saturday after a lacklustre display in the opening fixture in Auckland.
He said Savea, who has scored 39 tries in 42 Tests, was desperate to emerge from a form slump and overthinking his game.
“When you do that, you end up being like a robot really,” Hansen told reporters. “We want the instinctive Jules. When he’s like that he hurts people.”
He said Savea appeared “bogged down” in the first Test, even though he looked good in training.
“When you see them training really well but then you see them have a performance which is clunky and pretty wooden, you can usually tell without having to be a psychologist that there’s something going on,” he added.
Eight months ago Savea was one of six finalists for the world rugby player of the year award and he won the try of the year gong for his efforts against France in the World Cup quarter-finals.
He notched eight tries during New Zealand’s Cup campaign, equalling Jonah Lomu and Bryan Habana’s record for the most five-pointers during a single tournament.
Savea also scored the first try for the All Blacks in last weekend’s 39-21 win but otherwise had an indifferent outing.
He was beaten twice by Wales’ George North and touched the ball only four times before being replaced a few minutes after half-time.
While Savea was dropped by the Hurricanes earlier this season amid concerns about his fitness, Hansen said his application for the All Blacks had been outstanding.
“In the past he probably hasn’t worked hard enough but that’s not the issue at the moment,” he said. “He’ll get another opportunity.”
His departure sees Ben Smith move to the wing and Israel Dagg come in at fullback after 10 months in the international wilderness.
Dagg, who admitted he thought his All Blacks career was over when he failed to make the World Cup squad last year, believed Savea’s axing was short-term.
In the meantime, Dagg said his room-mate was helping the rest of the All Blacks squad prepare for Saturday’s game.
“There’s a rule in this team – you can sulk for a minute and then you’ve got to get over it and move on and do what’s best for the team,” he said.
15 Israel Dagg; 14 Ben Smith, 13
Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo; 10 Aaron Cruden, 9
Aaron Smith; 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino; 5
Brodie Retallick, 4 Sam Whitelock; 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie
Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22
Beauden Barrett, 23 Seta Tamanivalu
15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie
Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7
Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke
Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins
16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20
Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams