Defenders the world over have struggled to stop Julian Savea but a mental rut has done exactly that to the powerhouse All Blacks winger.
Savea’s axing for the second Test against Wales was deemed the only way to help the 25-year-old emerge from a form slump which coach Steve Hansen says is a result of anxiety.
Largely off-key for the Hurricanes this year, Savea produced an abnormally listless display in the first Test at Eden Park, despite scoring a try – his 39th from 42 Tests.
Hansen noted Savea touched the ball four times before being replaced early in the second half. On the other wing, Waisake Naholo had 17 touches.
“When someone’s bogged down, they’re normally a bit clunky and they’re stuck and you don’t see them doing much,” Hansen said.
“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 just wasn’t Julian.”
Savea’s weight was an issue midway through last year, resulting in his omission for several Tests before he produced some explosive rugby at the World Cup.
Fitness was a problem again early this Super Rugby season but Hansen says the 110kg power runner is back in prime condition.
The problem has instead been identified as working too hard to break out of a slump, over-thinking the game to the point he has lost enjoyment.
“When you do that, you end up being like a robot really,” Hansen said.
“We want the instinctive Jules and when he’s like that, he hurts people.
“In the past he probably hasn’t worked hard enough but that’s not the issue at the moment. He’ll get another opportunity.”