New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised the work-rate of flanker Ardie Savea on Sunday after the All Blacks overpowered title rivals South Africa in their Rugby World Cup opener.
Beauden Barrett was man of the match after Saturday’s 23-13 victory in Yokohama but the rampaging Savea, who covered all three loose forward positions at one point or another, played a blinder as the champions put down a marker in Japan.
“He just gets better and better as he gets older and stronger,” Hansen told reporters.
“At one point he used to be the impact player off the bench but at the moment he’s at the peak of his powers,” he added.
“He’s playing really well, he’s confident and it doesn’t matter where he plays, so he gives us a real good bit of X-factor there.
“We’ve always known he was an exceptional athlete but as his career’s gone on, he’s just got better and better. His stamina and strength as he’s matured into a fully-fledged professional rugby player now allows him to play for 80 minutes and do the special things he does.”
Veteran hooker Dane Coles echoed Hansen’s sentiments, backing the 25-year-old Savea to play a pivotal role for treble-chasing New Zealand, who have 10 days before they face Canada in their second Pool B game in Oita.
“From a little boy from Rongotai (Wellington) to one of the best players in the world at the moment,” purred Coles, who played 40 minutes before coming off with a calf niggle.
“He’s a special kid and it’s showing on the field,” he added.
“He’s just got a good heart and when he’s on that field he’s doing everything he can to show just what it means to be an All Black.”
– Box seat –
Coles denied suggestions that the sheer intensity of Saturday’s haka — the spine-tingling war dance the All Blacks perform before games — had caused the side to lose focus at the start of the game.
“I don’t think it put us off,” he shrugged. “I thought it was one of the better ones, I loved it.
“We’ve been doing a bit of work behind the scenes to get our timing right and for everyone to show what (the haka) means to them,” revealed Coles.
“It was cool to be a part of it. Reado (captain Kieran Read) led it, TJ (Perenara) did his thing — even Sam Whitelock was chucking out a pukana and stuff,” added the hooker, referring to the wide-eyed facial expression, baring of teeth and protruding tongue associated with the haka.
“It’s about representing New Zealand and we wanted to put a bit more work into it.”
Hansen, meanwhile, believes that victory over one of their biggest challengers puts the All Blacks in the box seat for the knockout stages.
“We control our own destiny with regards to where we finish in the pool,” he said.
“But we’re not having 10 days off — there will be a lot of hard work that will allow us to put some miles in the bank, so that when we get to the quarter-finals we can freshen up a bit.”