Julian Savea earns starting spot with Hurricanes

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Coach Jason Holland made several surprise choices in the match-day 23.

 

"We're aware the threat the Blues have, and how we counter them, and how we meet them around physicality and those sorts of things," he said.

 

That resulted in the choice of captain Ardie Savea at openside flanker, Vaea Fifita on the blindside flank and Devan Flanders at No8. Touring All Black flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi and Reed Prinsep will be on the bench.

 

And in the backs, fellow All Black Peter Umaga-Jensen and All Blacks Sevens player Salesi Rayasi will also start on the bench behind Billy Proctor and Julian Savea.

 

Holland said there was enough depth in the squad to adapt the selection for whatever challenge they perceive lies ahead of them.

 

Holland said Savea had earned his spot and had been impressive in his work since returning from France.

"He's a massively mature guy now who's desperate to do well and desperate to be as good as he can be, on and off the field. We've thrown challenges at Jules, over the last year or so. He came in as a replacement player with us last year for a couple of weeks, we didn't give him a crack, and his response was awesome.

 

"The way he's playing, he's got his body in great nick and he's everywhere, shades of where he was in the black jersey. We're excited about Jules and he's given himself every chance to do well," he said.

 

Savea's inclusion has come at Salesi Rayasi's expense. "Sas rips it up when he gets the ball in hand, no doubt about it. He scores some awesome tries. There's things we've been talking to Sas about, around work rate, and involvement, and little things, which he's worked hard at."

 

The selection also highlighted competition in the centres where Billy Proctor gained the start ahead of Peter Umaga-Jensen.

 

"Billy's gone really well, he's been awesome in the pre-season, and really put the pressure on, and Pete missed a few days after becoming a father late last week. To be fair, Billy's earned it, and it's going to be a good battle in that midfield this season," he said.

 

Jonathan Taumateine was the choice at halfback, filling the vacancy left in TJ Perenara's absence on sabbatical in Japan. He had impressed in pre-season play and was especially exciting around the ruck, Holland said.

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