Savea embodies versatility and flexibility of the All Blacks

Rugby News Service analysts select key performers to watch out for in this weekend's semi-finals. The latest is New Zealand back-row Ardie Savea.

TOKYO, 24 Oct - When Scott Barrett was being considered for the blindside flanker slot against England, there would have been no discussion about who he would replace. Despite Ardie Savea being incumbent at number six, his performances this year meant he would more likely switch to openside than drop to the replacements bench.

Savea offers everything expected from a modern back-row. A great tackler who wins turnovers at the breakdown, the New Zealand flanker is also a potent ball carrier. He also passes and offloads, and can play in any of the back-row positions.

Savea's two best matches at Rugby World Cup were against New Zealand's two toughest opponents, Ireland and South Africa. Against Ireland, the flanker carried eight times making 42m. He made a clean break and beat four defenders but also recorded 12 tackles and a turnover.

As a carrier, Savea is unique among forwards as he combines frequent carries - one every seven minutes he has been on the pitch at this World Cup - with major gains of 4.5m per run.

The clip below shows two of Savea's eight carries against Ireland last weekend. The first, off the back of a scrum, began an attack that eventually went into the Irish 22. Two minutes later, the possession ended with Aaron Smith scoring the first try of the game.

The second carry in the clip shows Savea's trademark leg-drive taking New Zealand to the 5m line. Two phases later, Codie Taylor scored New Zealand's fourth try. It would not be Savea's last contribution to a try in this match.

Defensively, Savea was also among the top players in last weekend's quarter-final. His 12 tackles were the third most by a New Zealand player, beaten only by Sam Whitelock (16) and captain Kieran Read (14) but neither of them quite have Savea's attacking potency with ball-in-hand. 

In the clip above, Savea again makes another great gain before passing to Dane Coles to make the eventual try for George Bridge a near certainty. However, Savea's best contribution to a New Zealand score at Rugby World Cup 2019 was probably in the opening match against South Africa. 

When New Zealand's attack begins, Savea is in the middle of the field about 70m from South Africa's try-line. Sevu Reece catches Richie Mo'unga's cross kick and Savea moves into position to run a support line. He receives the ball in space from Aaron Smith and runs 27m into the Springbok 22. The ball is recycled quickly from the only ruck in the move and Bridge scores on the next phase.

There was a time when Ardie Savea was not one of the first names on head coach Steve Hansen's teamsheet. That began to change at the venue of Saturday's semi-final almost exactly a year ago against Australia. His versatility, which allows him to play in any of the back-row positions, and performances over the past year have sealed his place as a key member of the New Zealand team.

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