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Savea 'given a breather' for Springboks showdown

Published: 6:43AM Friday October 05, 2012 Source: Fairfax

After seemingly cementing his spot on the All Blacks left wing, Julian Savea has been surprisingly sheltered from the Springboks spotlight this week.

It is a strange rotational decision that gives Hosea Gear another chance to prove he has the ability to make the step up to the Test arena. Gear has played 11 Tests since 2008 but is yet to stamp his authority.

Savea was not dropped, according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, who made five subtle adjustments to what remains a vastly experienced All Blacks team.

Brodie Retallick's promotion over scar-faced lock Luke Romano was the only other change to the starting line-up.

Tamati Ellison, Ben Franks and Adam Thomson come on to the bench.

On form, there was no way Savea could have been axed.

He's scored six tries in five Tests - two against the Pumas in Buenos Aires as part of the lethal back-three last week.

Savea has not put a foot wrong of late and appeared to be grasping what was required of him at international level, only to be spelled.

The 22-year-old - nicknamed the Big Black Bus - is a raw talent that is still refining.

One might suggest he would benefit from consistency of selection, but Hansen chose to give him a rest, to reflect, rather than expose him to 90,000 fans in Soweto.

"Julian has played really well but he's a young player and we felt he's had enough pressure on him," Hansen explained.

"It's a good time to let him step back out of the caldron to have a wee breather and evaluate what he has achieved. He'll come back in sooner than later probably."

Savea had a contrasting introduction to Test rugby.

On debut at Eden Park, the Hurricanes flyer collected a hat-trick in a fine all-round performance as the All Blacks ran rampant against Ireland.

But on a bitterly cold night in Christchurch his handling deserted him under the high ball. Gear was recalled the following week, as Hansen attempted to decipher his preferred No.11, and now the merry-go-round continues against the world No.2 Boks.

"He [Savea] got it explained why and at the end of the day it's not his decision," Hansen said. "He has to live with it. As long as you're honest and upfront with the reasons, players are initially disappointed, but they accept it and understand

."He's got a long career in the All Blacks jersey and he's had a big year."

Gear must make a strong impression to push his former Hurricanes team-mate.

"His form wasn't that bad when we changed and let Julian have a chance. We've rotated. It's important for Hosea to step in and step up," Hansen said.

"He did that last time we did this. He played particularly well against Ireland [Hamilton] - he probably had one of his better tests.

I'm expecting him to have a big game. He's itching to get out there."

Gear's main weakness has been his work-rate. He is considered one of the world's best finishers but too often goes missing in matches.

The 28-year-old will also have his hands full marking veteran Boks wing Bryan Habana, who scored a hat-trick against the Wallabies in Pretoria last week.

"So far with us he's been doing that OK," Hansen said of Gear's desire to get his hands on the ball. "Having watched what Julian has done the last test I'm sure he's excited to score a few tries himself. It will be a big challenge for him."

Thomson's first call-up in the Rugby Championship, at the expense of Sam Cane, was another intriguing selection. The Highlanders loose-forward, who is weighing up his future, has been criticised for his apparent lack of physicality, which is a hallmark of every South African outfit.

Thomson's promotion over Cane and Victor Vito was predominately for his presence at lineout time.

"I don't think it's a question mark when he's injury free," Hansen said of Thomson's physicality. "He's been carrying a lot of injuries through the backend of Super Rugby and early All Black games. We've allowed him to freshen up and get over that."

The Boks named an unchanged starting side yesterday featuring 420 caps, but they have goal-kicking concerns with rookie first five-eighth Johan Goosen struggling with a heel injury.Hansen's side boasts 706 caps and he expects that core to be vital on Sunday.

"In the heat of the fire when the pressure is really on that's when that experience is expected to stand up. We want those big time players to play well this week. The core of the team has seen most things."

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Luke Romano, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Tamati Ellison.

Springboks: Zane Kirchner, Bryan Habana, Jaco Taute, Jean de Villiers (c), Francois Hougaard, Johan Goosen, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Tiaan Liebenberg, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee. Elton Jantjies, Juan de Jongh, Pat Lambie.