All Blacks v Wales: England rugby writer Stuart Barnes pays tribute to No 8 Ardie Savea

Ardie Savea scores in a tackle from a Welsh defender. Photo/AP

Former England top five Stuart Barnes has hailed the work of All Blacks No. 8 Ardie Savea, saying the Hurricanes captain would ‘walk – or should he claw his way – into a World XV’ .

“In a team filled with individual talent, there is no greater personality in New Zealand rugby,” Barnes wrote in The Times.

Savea was a star in the All Blacks’ 55-23 hammering on Sunday morning against Wales in Cardiff, clocking 9.5 in the Herald Player Ratingswith player-evaluator Cameron McMillan noting that the No.8 was “almost unstoppable with the ball in hand”.

“A superb outing for a player who is the most important on this team,” McMillan wrote.

Barnes said the All Blacks’ inspirational No.8 had been ‘at the epicenter of the action’ when his side scored early, and noted an element in Savea’s breakdown work that was reminiscent of the greatest of them all .

“There was not a ranged player in the same class in a first half that ended in a friendly chat between Savea and the referee, Wayne Barnes. In his 100th game, Barnes was heard praise ‘Ardie’ for getting away from a tackle zone in time.

“Wait for the official to politely ask, then move. In that fraction of a second, the defense is reorganized and luck is gone; it was pure Richie McCaw.

This season, as the All Blacks struggled with defeats to Ireland, South Africa and Argentina, Barnes criticized Sam Cane’s continued selection by Ian Fosterand even took the time to shoot the regular skipper in an event where he was not playing.

“[Dalton] Papili’i enjoyed a fine game. He’s a much more powerful and quick running back than Foster’s captain choice Cane. Once again there was a clear feeling that the All Blacks are much harder to beat without their nominal captain than with him.

Barnes noted that Savea is “the heart, the soul, the essence behind the whole operation”.

“Sam Whitelock was captain in Sam Cane’s absence but the Kiwis are following their number 8.”

The Englishman also praised the performance of half-back Aaron Smith saying he “seemed to be somewhere close to his 2015 vintage”. Smith shot a 9 in the Herald ratings, where it was noted that he had “turned back time on his record-breaking 113th Test”.

The Herald ratings noted, “Another brilliant test from one of the game’s great halfbacks.”

Barnes also acknowledged Savea’s work in preparing for Smith’s second try.

“When the best back-line striker in the world and one of the scrum-halves of the century clicks, better teams than Wales will struggle.

“Ten tackles, 15 carries, two assists and a try will be the statistical record to go down in the history books, but bare stats, as always, only tell the most paltry of stories. Here is one of the great players of the current era.

The efforts of the tight five were crucial in giving Savea and Smith time and space to shine.

“If New Zealand’s recovery from their early season problems is to be checked in the coming weeks, staying firm in the face of the breakdown is essential. Smith is significantly inferior with slow and setback possession. And although Savea remains superb, it’s far better to force him into defensive duties than reveal to him the unleashed array of skills we witnessed in Cardiff.

Barnes said the All Blacks were “traveling in the right direction, inspired by the best backline striker in the world”.