Savea brothers combine for Wellington for first time in powerful starting XV

Remarkably, brothers Ardie and Julian Savea have never played in the same Wellington provincial team. HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY IMAGES

Julian Savea made his debut for Wellington in 2010; younger brother Ardie two years later.

In the ensuing decade in which both shot to rugby fame from the Oriental-Rongotai club, through to the Hurricanes and All Blacks, they’ve never shared the same Wellington NPC dressing room in a combined 66 matches.

That statistic expires in Hamilton on Saturday at 2pm when the Savea brothers run out in numbers 11 and 8 respectively, for the Lions’ Mitre 10 Cup opener against Waikato. They last teamed up for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders in June 2018.

Wellington Rugby confirmed the brothers had never appeared together as they juggled All Blacks commitments. The closest they got was in 2012, Ardie’s debut season when he played 10 of Wellington’s 11 matches and Julian played the other, against Hawke’s Bay.

New coach Leo Crowley named a powerhouse side on Thursday, with All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara and hooker Asafo Aumua also starting under captain Du’Plessis Kirifi, as Wellington chase a first title since 2000 after last year’s Premiership final defeat to Tasman.

It’s been a long way home for Julian Savea who turned 30 last month, having left for French club Toulon in 2018 then announced in May he was returning home from a turbulent stint amid Covid-19.

Now Auckland-based, the former All Blacks tryscoring machine chose his old province over offers from North Harbour and Auckland. The city’s level 3 lockdown meant minimal buildup for Savea’s first Wellington appearance since the 2017 Championship final: one club match for Ories on August 8, and the second half of last Saturday’s pre-season defeat to Manawatu.

“He’s raring to go and offering help to anyone that he can and just being a positive influence on the training park for us. And off the field, as well,” Crowley said.

“No doubt all eyes will be on Julian but I’m sure he’ll be ready for that.”

Whether he can recapture the old magic which saw him score 46 tries in 54 tests – the most recent against the British and Irish Lions in 2017 – is one compelling angle of this All Blacks-laden competition. Having stated a desire to return to the midfield, wing will be Savea’s spot for now with a host of contenders for jerseys 12 and 13.

“He’s raring to go and offering help to anyone that he can and just being a positive influence on the training park for us. And off the field, as well,” Crowley said.

“No doubt all eyes will be on Julian but I’m sure he’ll be ready for that.”

Whether he can recapture the old magic which saw him score 46 tries in 54 tests – the most recent against the British and Irish Lions in 2017 – is one compelling angle of this All Blacks-laden competition. Having stated a desire to return to the midfield, wing will be Savea’s spot for now with a host of contenders for jerseys 12 and 13.

Kirifi said of the All Blacks’ presence: “It’s pretty mean having Jules and all the boys, Ardie, TJ, we’re just really lucky to have those names floating around in the changing room.

“It’s nice to see them relax a little bit when they come down to Mitre 10 and just get amongst it with the lads. Jules obviously has some nice dance moves, so he brings some good energy in the gym and the changing room.

“The situation is what it is with Covid. I’m not too sure if the All Blacks are going to have a season, but we’ll take those boys for as long as we can get them. Absolutely no complaints.”

Kirifi rejoins Ardie Savea and former All Black Vaea Fifita in a dynamic Hurricanes loose forward trio, with Crowley tipping that’s where Saturday’s game could be decided.

“If you can nail the collisions and the advantage line in your ball carrying and the breakdown in week one you’ll go a long way to hiding all the other stuff you haven’t quite got perfect. It’ll be won at the breakdown and carrying the ball in the collisions,” the coach said.

AT A GLANCE

Wellington: Trent Renata, Connor Garden-Bachop, Billy Proctor, Vince Aso, Julian Savea, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Du’Plessis Kirifi (captain), Vaea Fifita, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, James Blackwell, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa. Reserves: Tyrone Thompson, Morgan Poi, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, Taine Plumtree, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Aidan Morgan, Peter Umaga-Jensen.

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