Steve Hansen can tick one box when it comes to his problematic former All Blacks wing Julian Savea.
The master coach wants to see his 27-year-old wing – stranded on the 46-try mark from his 54 tests when he was dropped from the All Blacks mid-year – rediscover his love of the game. He wants to see “the smile” back on the face of the man they call ‘The Bus’.
Savea, who was in Auckland on Thursday to undertake promotional duties for February’s Brisbane Global Tens which he hopes to use to launch a successful comeback season, says the All Blacks’ boss can rest assured on that front.
Savea and wife Fatima just a week ago welcomed baby girl Jude into the world. The big wing is over the moon about that, as well as where he finds himself as another Super Rugby season gets set to roll around.
“It definitely does change your life. I’m going to have to start making better choices now,” he added with just a hint of a smile. “It’s a blessing and we just can’t get enough of her. I’m so obsessed with her.”
As he is with his rugby right now. After a short break post his appearance for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in November., he is back into pre-season training, and working hard at meeting the challenges he has been set by both his franchise and national coaches.
“The off-season has been good. I’ve been doing my own stuff, training with a couple of mates, and they have been keeping me honest. The biggest thing every year is just nutrition, and I think I’m on top of that.”
He’s asked how important it is not to let his All Blacks disappointment define him, and weigh him down.
“I’m a competitor,” he replies. “I can’t do much about who picks the team and that sort of stuff, but I can do a lot about myself and performing really well. I didn’t really care what anyone had to say, but I just wanted to keep playing well. The main thing was just to enjoy it and don’t sweat the little things.
“You know the pre-season is going to hurt — that’s why I love it. It’s going to put you in the position you need to be in, in the shape you need to be in. I can’t wait. I know when I’m in that position I can play the best footy I can.”
Savea’s response after his All Blacks dropping has indicated he is up for the fight. He produced an outstanding campaign on the right wing for the Wellington Lions as they won promotion back to the Premiership, and now his mindset appears as positive as it can be.
“I love challenges,” he says. “It’s definitely the end goal to make the All Blacks. But that’s way down there and I’m taking one step at a time. At the moment I want to get into the pre-season, have a good tournament at the Tens and then kick things off with the Hurricanes.
“Whatever happens there happens. I know they’ve got a lot of good outside backs there and guys that can cover there. I’m not getting ahead of myself. I know sometimes the coaches like to stick with who they like. We’ll just see how it goes.”
But you know he has one destination in mind, even if his first stop is the Tens where he’s desperate to make an impact after signing on as an event ambassador
“I don’t see it as a stage, or a vehicle to take me somewhere. It’s just a good way to kick-start the season. It’s just a tournament I want to enjoy being part of and put my best foot forward.”
If he adds a smile on the dial, an All Blacks coach will be very happy indeed.