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New All Blacks take starring roles in stride

Published: 6:30AM Monday June 11, 2012 Source: Fairfax

Most players struggle to adjust to the increased speed and physicality of test match rugby.

Halfback Aaron Smith was disappointed it hadn't been faster and wing Julian Savea seemed almost nonplussed at one of the more memorable All Black hat-tricks.

And so two of Steve Hansen's big selection hunches were confirmed with interest during Saturday's 42-10 win over Ireland.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said after the match that Savea was "a man of few words" and the 21-year-old lived up to the billing in playing down his feats.

Savea's calm reaction mirrored his feelings in the buildup.

Even on the bus ride to Eden Park the 21-year-old said he felt calm and assured, the butterflies only briefly taking flight when he walked into the All Blacks' changing room.

They had settled, he said, by the time he took the field.

He turned over his first possession, but while people might have thought his big tackle on Irish fullback Rob Kearney had calmed his nerves, Savea said he hadn't thought much of it at the time.

"I guess it did [help me]. I didn't really think about it, but people watching probably thought it did, yeah," he said. "I just thought I'd make the tackle. It was dominant and then I was just thinking, get on your feet and try to win the ball again.

"It's a bit surreal. I'm just happy to put on the jersey and represent the country and hopefully I did it proud."

Parents Masina and Lina would not have been as calm as they sat in the stands, but it can be assumed they overflowed with pride.

His Hurricanes' team-mates have dubbed him "the Black Bus" a tag last handed out to Inga Tuigamala. Kearney will understand the moniker after courageously throwing himself under Savea's wheels in Auckland.

Fullback Israel Dagg laid on two of his wing's three tries and expects they won't be the last.

"I just said to him before the game just go out there and have some fun, express yourself. You all saw what he did tonight, he's just a human bus. You give him the ball close to the line and he's always going to park it."

Savea became just the fourth All Black to score three tries in their first test following Thomas Lynch in 1913, Christian Cullen in 1996 and Troy Flavell, against Tonga, in 2000.

For Smith, the test had been almost therapeutic after what the Manawatu halfback described as the proudest, but longest day of his life.

Time had dragged as he'd stared at the roof of his hotel but once he got to the ground things had "clicked" into a more comfortable pace.

In fact, Smith said the test hadn't been as fast as he'd like, something he hoped he'd get a chance to improve in Christchurch.

"At halfback I set the tone and Ireland were really good at slowing down our ball quite a bit at the ruck and that was really disappointing for us," Smith said.

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