“I’m a big fan of Ben” - Ardie Savea targets Ben Earl as England’s danger-man as All Blacks number eight prepares to battle opposite man - Ruck

“I’m a big fan of Ben” – Ardie Savea targets Ben Earl as England’s danger-man as All Blacks number eight prepares to battle opposite man

When England and the All Blacks go head to head, there is often an unmissable individual conflict amongst the chaos. From Brian Moore and Sean Fitzpatrick scrum-time dogfights of the late 90s, to George Ford going tee-to-tee with Richie Mo’unga in an unforgettable World Cup halfback masterclass, this fixture frequently drums up some enticing battles within the Anglo-Kiwi fixtures.

One such head to head for any fan to enjoy this Saturday, is the mouth-watering meeting between two of the world’s best back-rows. Ardie Savea is set to come eye-to-eye with Ben Earl in Dunedin, with the two out to stake their claims as rugby’s superior number eight.

Currently, Savea holds the annual recognition from World Rugby as the best player in the world. The All Black was bestowed with the 2023 Player of the Year award, the day after New Zealand lost the Rugby World Cup Final in Paris. However, such a title means little to the Saracen, as Earl is out to take the accolade with both hands, having previously expressed his intentions to become the best player on the planet.

Savea certainly recognises the calibre of his positional opponent this Saturday, as he picked out Earl amongst England’s top threats that are heading to Dunedin. Speaking in today’s All Blacks media session ahead of the first Test of the series, Savea said:

“Yeah, Ben’s nice ay. he’s got good feet at the line. And you know, he plays really well and is a strong ball carrier. Yeah, that’s something that we need to identify and nullify, but It’d be very hard for us as a team. That’s how we want to play, get the ball in our hands, and jam.”

Ben Earl of England celebrates during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“I played against the Itoje probably all my international career, and he’s a pillar in their team. I’m a big fan of Ben (Earl), how he plays it’s kind of similar to myself. He’s pretty swaggy with the ball and runs hard and he’s got some good feet.”

“Direct, strong set piece. Their mauling, and in the past you know they’ve had success going through us. So you know, as I said that before if we don’t match that it’s going to be a long day for us.”

Joining Ardie Savea in the All Blacks back row, is a man who he describes as ‘quiet and dangerous’ in the fight against England. Getting set to make only his third cap for the All Blacks is Samipeni Finau, with the Chiefs man getting the nod to start on the blindside flank, with Sam Cane now pursuing club ventures in Japan. Savea has been impressed by Finau, and is excited to work with him in squandering the threat of Earl and co.

“He’s an energizer in our team. You know, he’s a guy that can change momentum off his defense. We’ve seen that in Super (Rugby). But it’s nice, you know, he’s the quietest man off the field, but when he gets on there you know, he’s dangerous.

“So, it’s been nice to connect with everyone actually, and then just see a lot of the boys again, and just connect. But yeah, he’s dangerous hopefully keeps up the good form.”

Amongst the old faces that Savea has reconnected with following a season in Japan, few of the New Zealand names go back with him as far as TJ Perenara. The long time Hurricanes running buddies are back together in the black jerseys, with the scrum half set for his first Test cap since New Zealand drew against England at Twickenham, in the 2022 Autumn Internationals. Delighted in being back alongside his old friend, Savea said;

“I always knew. Like, if there’s one person you want, by your side it’s Peri.  He will never take no for an answer. He’s the most competitive person that I know. So for him to come back, it’s not surprising for the ones that know him.

“But yeah, he’s got a lot of a lot of mana (maori word for presence) He holds a lot of mana in this team. When he speaks, everyone listens. So I missed him. It’s good to have him back in there. You can just feel his presence when he arrived.”

Whilst Savea is excited to be rekindling old friendships around the New Zealand camp, he has also undertaken a fresh start with Scott Robertson at the helm of the side. The coach known as Razor has progressed from seven consecutive Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, to taking the lead of the All Blacks for the first time this Saturday.

Savea has called this new era under Robertson to be quite a ‘refresh’, with the back-row enjoying life so far in Razor’s ‘cutting-edge’ new era of the All Blacks.

“It’s been refreshing. You know, like for us that have been here a few years that have been blessed to be here, you’re still on your toes because you just don’t know what’s happening or you don’t know how things are going to operate.

“And I think that’s good, keeps everyone on edge and brings the best out of everyone. So it’s been nice to come together as a team and get stuck into some mahi (maori – practice) and prepare for the week.”

“I can’t really say without giving too much away, but it’s been refreshing and it’s exciting too. I’ve never been coached under Razor and the reason it’s so refreshing, having him and the rest of the coaches coach, is they’re really looking forward to putting something out there this weekend.”