LONDON – Julian Savea said on Tuesday he was “very excited” about the challenge of facing his native New Zealand and younger brother Ardie for the Barbarians at Twickenham this weekend.
Despite boasting a superb Test record of 46 tries in just 54 Tests, powerhouse wing Savea has found himself in international exile since the drawn series decider against the British and Irish Lions in Auckland in July.
The loss of form saw him make way for Hurricanes teammate Nehe Milne-Skudder in the ensuing squad for the Rugby Championship.
Instead, Savea has now been selected for the invitational Barbarians to face the All Blacks in their European tour opener at Twickenham on Saturday, with the match a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the New Zealand Rugby Union.
Asked how it felt to be playing against, rather than for New Zealand, Savea told reporters at the Barbarians’ London hotel: “A little bit strange, but I’m very excited about the challenge and actually very excited about being part of this club, it’s pretty special.”
As for suggestions he had a point to prove, Savea, nicknamed ‘the Bus’, said: “Not so much. I’m here to experience the Baabaas way of playing and excited to play against New Zealand.”
The 27-year-old, the leading try-scorer when the All Blacks won the 2015 World Cup in England, said he was confident of reviving his Test career.
“I believe the door is always going to be open as long as I can play the best I can,” he insisted.
Barbarians coach Robbie Deans said the fact that Savea had fallen down the pecking order in the contest for All Black wing berths was a testament to the strength in depth of rugby in New Zealand.
“It’s a commentary on the game, not only in New Zealand, but globally,” Deans, himself a former New Zealand fullback, explained.
“But particularly in New Zealand because there are always people bubbling up from below,” added Deans, currently the coach of Japan’s Panasonic Wild Knights, having previously been in charge of Australia and Super Rugby’s Crusaders.
“If you park up, you get passed. I’m not saying Julian parked up, but you have to keep evolving as a player.
“That’s the nature of the game, particularly in the professional era. They analyse and they find ways to make your life difficult, but we’re expecting to see a pretty good performance from Julian on the weekend – the great thing is, he’s up for it.
“A lesser man would have said ‘it’s too hard’, but he’s still hungry, and that’s great from the All Blacks’ perspective.”
Saturday’s match is set to see the Wellington flyer go up against his back-row forward brother Ardie, three years his junior.
“The last time I played against him was at home,” Julian recalled. “I’m not expecting any sort of leniency.”
As for what might happen were his brother the last line of defence, Savea senior said: “I’m just going to step him, go round that way. It’s going to be weird, strange, coming up against Ards.
“He obviously beat me to playing with the Barbarians as well – he was part of this team two years ago – so this will be pretty cool.”
Savea, citing a 25-19 win for the Barbarians when they last played New Zealand at Twickenham in 2009, said victory for the scratch side – who pushed Australia close before losing 31-28 in Sydney last weekend – was a “realistic target”.
Meanwhile, he dismissed talk some of his former New Zealand teammates were “scared” to face him as a “little bit of nonsense”.
“I’m just going to bring my game and do what I can for the team,” he said.
“I’m just excited about the challenge and this week, and how it will all turn out, and obviously we’ll have a beer after.”