Ardie Savea: Hurricane’s baby turned Captain

Ardie Savea has been named as captain of the Hurricanes for the 2021 Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa season. We look back to 2014 when we chatted to a fresh-faced Ardie about what he has planned for his rugby career.

Ardie Savea, back in 2014

By Alexander Bisley
Photography by Ashley Church

Featured in Capital #13
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Ardie Savea’s massive, muscular arms are formidable. The open side flanker’s sitting next to me at Hurricanes training HQ in Newtown. He has an attention-grabbing tattoo on his left inner arm, a beautiful Samoan woman. “This is my mother when she was young,” he confides. “These hibiscus flowers, they’re my grandmother’s favourite flower.” His tattoos pays tribute to his family, his father is further up his arm. “These guys are the reason why we’re here, me and Julz, they mean a lot to us.” He won’t let these tattoos be photographed, but the one on his neck—staunchly “Savea”—is often shot.

The other Savea—Julian in the 11 jersey—recently got a hat trick for the All Blacks’ thumping third test win over England. “It’s always good to see one of your siblings doing well. Growing up you have that rivalry but you grow out of that. We’ve always had our rivalries but I guess that’s made us who we are now. We’ve been successful in our own ways. Julz has come a long way and it’s good to have him as a bro and seeing him do really well. I’m hopefully trying to follow in his footsteps.”

Likeable and earthy, Ardie’s a major talent. He has played in the Sevens, Junior All Blacks, and Wellington Lions and was a star of the 2013 ITM Cup, which recommences in August.

His strength, speed, dynamism and thoroughness augur well. “I love running off the ball. I reckon it’s just doing the little things right. I’m focussing on quality tackles and my clean-ups around the break-down at the moment.”

Currently weighing in at 100kgs (and 188cms), the 20-year-old loves playing in South Africa withthe ‘Canes. “Beautiful people, beautiful places. The players are ginormous, very physical. That’s one of my work-ons: get physically good, bigger, so I can play the game at the Super level. Super level is a way different level than ITM.”

The self-described “baby of the team” already has seventeen ‘Canes caps. Hurricanes Captain Conrad Smith says Ardie will command the yellow 7 jersey. “Great dude, big potential. He’ll play a lot of games for the Hurricanes, I think. He’s freakishly powerful and fast for his age and size.”

Masina and Lina Savea’s sons’ passion for rugby is intense like their passion for their family. Ardie used to go sleep on Friday in his rugby kit, and at least once in his rugby boots. “I think my dad over-exaggerated that,” Ardie laughs. “I was always looking forward to playing. I always chucked my uniform on. I was one of those ones who couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about playing. I’d wake up, it’s only two o’clock in the morning, back to sleep, wake up at four o’clock. Every time I woke up I’d move the curtain to see if it was raining or not, because when it’s raining games are [sometimes] cancelled; so I was hoping that wouldn’t happen. Every time the game got cancelled, urgh! I’d force my Dad to go down to the park and double check.”

This was quite an effort, as the Savea family didn’t have a car as the boys grew up. We walked everywhere. We grew up over the hill in Berhampore. Our club was in Miramar so it was two bus trips or we’d walk to Newtown and bus from Newtown to Miramar. Everywhere we went either walked or bussed until Julz got his first Super Rugby contract, that’s when we bought a second hand car. ”

It was good for fitness. “It kept us active. Even though me and Julz always threw paddies because we had to walk everywhere.” If games were cancelled, Ardie threw the “meanest sook. I was quite gutted.”

Three years junior, Ardie was playing under tens while Julian played under thirteens. “My game would be earlier so I’d play my game and I’d quickly run over to his game to see if they were short on numbers to try and play for them. Sometimes I got on.”

Wellington’s Eastern Suburbs have always been a special place for the former Rongotai College head prefect.   “Born and bred here. We’re quite close with my grandmother and my granddad and they lived in Kilbirnie. So we were always there with all the family. Mum’s got about seven sisters and two brothers, all with a minimum of two kids. ”All residing in Miramar and Strathmore. Sundays or every  Saturday we see each other when we watch club rugby cos everyone’s down there supporting. All into rugby. Uncles played rugby, cousins playing rugby. Our family’s sport based so it’s quite cool.”

The brothers have always been into flamboyant dancing, too. “We always used to have our battles, just to entertain the family. Quite competitive us two, we wouldn’t let anyone have the last say, so it carried on. As we’ve been older Jules has stuck to the dancing scene, while I’ve just laid back a little bit. I don’t think he’s done a celebration this year yet; I still love to have a dance now and then.”

Last year, Ardie captained the Junior All Blacks at the Junior World Cup, under Chris Boyd, the incoming Hurricanes head coach. “Obviously we didn’t get the result, not winning it, but I really think that it was a big learning curve. It was the best experience leading the team out.”

Leading the haka, drawing on its power and tradition, was invigorating. “It’s always good doing the haka, especially when you’re doing it for your country. It’s indescribable, but just to have all your brothers behind you actually giving the challenge out to the other team is pretty awesome.”

The Saveas are now living together in Julian’s Kilbirnie home.“Julz has been staying there for a while but we moved in last year – Mum, Dad and me. Julz took us in,” he laughs amiably again. Fashion is another shared passion. The brothers are investigating setting up a menswear line. “We don’t know whether to look over it or join off another clothing company that sponsors with rugby.

The hardest thing is that we have no study qualifications in fashion. It’s just something we like, so it’s quite hard. We work with some of the people that are here [Hurricanes development staff] that help us. It’s a slow process, because we’re so busy with rugby and stuff.”

Being able to afford some sharp threads is another bonus of a Super Rugby contract. “I do like to look good when I go out.”

Savea is outgoing and lively. “I like to socialise with people and stuff like that.” He describes the family sense of humour as dry. In a family television interview Ardie is seen asking “Mum, can you stop telling these embarrassing stories?” “Yeah,” he recalls. “She knows everything. The mothers know everything about us.”

Ardie describes the current black number 7 Richie McCaw as a “a legend in the game. What he’s done with the 7 jersey has raised the bar so high.”   Ardie gestures voluptuously with those big arms, raising them towards the heavens. “It’s a good challenge and it’ll be good to try and play against.”

Ardie has been mentioned as a strong shot at replacing Richie McCaw when the time comes. Characteristically guarded All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen cited him as “huge potential” and took him as ‘the apprentice’ on the 2013 end of year tour.

 “That was a pretty overwhelming experience. Being a part of everything, being a part of the team and the environment was quite special; makes me want to be in there properly. But I guess that will take time. Watching how everything processes and what goes on to be the best in the world, it was quite remarkable. I did everything except play – training, everything.”

He must have picked up a bit from McCaw, doing that? “Mainly just learnt off him through watching him. Didn’t really get a chance to talk much.  But yeah when I did talk to him, genuine guy, a nice guy. It’s pretty surreal actually, watching him when I was little and now being next to him having a chat.”

As we finish the ‘Canes media manager Hannah comes over with a jersey. “Can you please sign this, Ardie? It’s for Taika [Waititi], he’s obsessed with you.”

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