Julian Savea Public Judgement 101: In Modern Rugby, Who Judges Who

New Zealand All Blacks Media Session

Last Word on Rugby, by Francisco Isaac.

Rugby is an incredible team sport, with strong and decent values. Always fighting for the truth, either in-game; the TMO for instance, or afterwards; the citing committees). Off the field however, today there is more examination than ever. And one of the latest victims has involved the Julian Savea public judgment on his non-selection.

The positives from rugby are many. It gives back in helping kids to develop and grow up to become better human beings. More often, giving its fans the best examples of sportsmanship in the world. However, in the last few years the global rugby reporting style has dropped its standards somewhat. There is never any problem in questioning managerial or coaching decisions, team gameplay and tactics, or how one’s own side played. Criticism with solid arguments is always a valid addition to the game. And questioning with reason is not only allowed but should be encouraged.

Modern, Controversial Type Of Writing

Nevertheless, if you go to the bowels of many rugby pages or community sites [website or social media pages], you can find examples that are adopting a modern, controversial type of writing or news sharing. And if not questioned. in due course, may compromise the journalistic side of the game.

Simply take a look at how New Zealand winger Julian Savea was, and is, being treated after Steve Hansen dropped him from the All Blacks’ first test side against the British & Irish Lions. The  headlines and comments read ‘failure’; ‘has fallen in the last years’; ‘not near good enough to be in the 33 man squad’.

He was labeled ‘slow and heavy’ and other critical statements, amid media scrutiny and the barrage of press who were in New Zealand for the Lions tour.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – JUNE 08: Media record the All Blacks & Maori All Blacks New Zealand Lions Series Squads Announcement at Butler Hall on June 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

In 2016, the Hurricanes winger had a less than reasonable season for the Wellington-based franchise, dropping to the bench in the knock-out stages of the competition. Even as the Grand Final was hosted in his home town, Savea was not selected for the starting XV. By that time, growing voices were calling for Waisake Naholo and Israel Dagg to be installed on the wings, with Ben Smith operating at full-back… with no Savea though.

The unofficial press and rugby commentators took pot-shots, implying that ‘the Bus’ had over inflated tyres, that he was not his old self. The facts were evident, but the popular opinion will have hurt the big winger.

Selected On The Bench For ‘Tactical Reasons’

Julian Savea public judgment was fed by further selection issues. In the first game of The Rugby Championship against Australia, both Savea and Dane Coles were on the bench for the national side. Two of the most influential players for the All Blacks in recent years were only selected as replacements. Admittedly, Coles had sustained a chest-injury against the Crusaders in the Super Rugby round-play. Coles was held back, with precaution on his health but Savea was there purely for tactical reasons.

Ironically, Savea came off the bench and grabbed one of the tries, in the 8-42 thrashing. He would add three more before the end of the tournament, ran more than 370 meters in five games and achieved 11 clear-breaks. Julian Savea had an impressive competition and showed his best colors, whilst helping the All Blacks claim another title.

The public judgement altered, and Savea was again quickly praised, though some still charged that his previous venom was dulled. The All Blacks had faith, and his real fans too, but detractors can still promote their own agenda.

Time went on and the 2017 season showed up. Savea was good, as the Hurricanes beat many teams by over 50 points yet another 26 year old winger stepped out of his shadow: Rieko Ioane. The Auckland Blues super-kid delivered some impressive exhibitions, scoring 10 tries in over the season – including a ‘beautiful’ hat-trick against the Rebels.

Challenges Promote Julian Savea Public Judgment

As Ioane moved from center to wing, he was growing as one of the great future prospects of the New Zealand rugby. With options like James Lowe and [in 2016] Johnny McNichol signing overseas contracts, the former Sevens player was heralded as an option. And his successes on the field, perked the interest of the national selectors – as much as Julian Savea public judgment.

The Blues athelete has recently played twice against the current British and Irish Lions; (1) a match winning effort for the Blues and; (2) a less impressive display for the Maori All Blacks (he was not alone). With positive public awareness, the supportive press and social media was a contrast to other, more probable current players.

Yet it came as a surprise, when the 19 year old winger was promoted to the All Blacks first pick team to play in the opening test last weekend. And as a result, no place for Savea in the starting line-up. Not even on the bench.

A Fall From Grace and Questions Asked

Questions began to be asked as to ‘why one of the best wingers in the world was no longer being picked for the All Blacks?’ There were, and are, different arguments for it: some say a left-wing who has no versatility – has a shorter life-span. Others argue that the Hurricanes’ winger has slowly been falling from grace, and has not helped the Hurricanes or All Blacks in recent times.

There are a multitude of opinions but only a select few found light in the mainstream. In Stuff.co.nz in an article regarding Julian Savea you could read in the comments section, some of the best public judgement regarding the omission of Julian Savea:

“Why are people throwing the bus under the bus.”

“I think the weather had a big part to play in the selection of Ioane. The game will be tight, there will be a barrage of high balls. Ioane is safe under the highball at Eden Park. If it was perfect conditions Naholo or Savea would be starting no,” was one such statement.

Comments and Opinion Rife

“Despite this I laughed at some of the comments I saw yesterday from armchair selectors after the team was named. That Savea was passed his best and should slip away to Europe. Savea is still only 26 and just four tries away from claiming the most test tries by an All Black outright, so people telling him to leave after missing the match day 23 for the first Lions test are being ridiculous if you ask me!

“Savea is one of the best wingers in the world and absolutely devastating for defenses when on form, so I think he deserves to be cut some slack. Maybe missing the first test will give him the motivation he needs to reclaim the #11 jersey?” was the comment by NPB. (name withheld)

In this sea of negative and falsely researched argument or extreme opinions, it is possible to find people who can look deeper than most of the armchair critics. In a way, the Stuff opinion article about Julian Savea can be criticized for ignoring the 2016 exhibitions for the All Blacks – he scored eight tries in 11 games. Or even his recent 2017 form for the Hurricanes–one of the best players for the Wellington squad, although shunned quite a bit, by Jordie Barret’s sensational debut.

Savea Still a Frightening Opponent

Julian Savea is a strong, quick, powerful and frightening opponent on the wing. A good tackler (Waisake Naholo shows more weakness around the contact area), he is one of the most influential wingers in the last 20 years. If ‘the Bus’ gets the opportunity to score four more tries, he will surpass record holder Doug Howlett [49].

Julian Savea of the All Blacks is tackled during the Bledisloe Cup Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Eden Park on October 22, 2016. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

He would then be just twenty tries away from world record holder, Daisuke Ohata. Again, an example of Rugby Judgement 101–still only 26 years old and a minority of All Blacks rugby fans are saying ‘good riddance’. They speak of an apparent ‘complacent attitude’; the worst of them broadcast around the world;

“not good enough to be the All Blacks winger”.

With just one missed call-up, Savea is now considered an unworthy All Black by some yet people forget his try-scoring record, his block-busting efforts and how ‘the Bus’ could break the advantage line at will, and escape the opposition. His highlight reel is impressive, and his non-selection possibly, only temporary.

True, Rieko Ioane scored two tries in the first game of the All Blacks v British and Irish Lions series, setting him up for a bright future career for the New Zealand side. Yet, is the media being fair to Julian Savea? Why the need to so comprehensively deride such an influential player in recent times?

Public Opinion Harsh Reality of Modern ‘Sports Talk’

One of the best ever wingers to play the game in the last few decades, Savea is earning a public condemnation with only a valid few prepared to present good and solid arguments for the why’s and why not’s of Steve Hansen’s choices. None of the social media statements hold enough credibility to justify their vehement analysis. Some are clearly, only made to drum up a storm.

It’s time to stop with the ‘no argument sports talk’ and start worrying about how to have evidence-based discussions. Discussion like ‘did Julian Savea make the Lions midweek teams life a misery on Wednesday?’ Or will he, once again, face an unfair slaughter-fest in the banter or comments sections of the hundreds of rugby pages/communities all over the digital world?

For mine, it is time to respect the player, the audience and subject. Be read for more than just the ‘clickbait’ value. Because for one, Julian Savea does not deserve it. Nor does the game of rugby promote it.

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“Main photo credit”