High-speed 'Bus' evokes memories of 'Inga the Winger'
IRISH rugby followers of a certain vintage should recall Va'aiga Lealuga Tuigamala, the man who looked like a heavyweight boxer but played on the wing and made a stunning impression on New Zealand's 1989 tour of Britain and Ireland.
'Inga the Winger' became a cult hero for the All Blacks in the early 1990s and for his native Samoa, who he represented for the first time against Ireland in 1996.
Not overly tall, Tuigamala was incredibly powerful and, with sprinter's pace and the ability to jink and swerve at full tilt, he became a try-scoring machine.
Twenty years on and there is another young winger with Pacific Island roots poised to make his breakthrough with the All Blacks. Julian Savea's stunning impact for the Wellington Lions in the ITM Cup and the Hurricanes in Super Rugby has seen him likened to Jonah Lomu but, while he is close to Lomu's height at 6'3", in style the 21-year-old more closely resembles Tuigamala in full flight.
Dense muscle mass gives Savea a low centre of gravity and with the same change of direction skill as 'Inga', the tries have flowed for the man who was quickly dubbed 'the Bus' by the players when he came into his first All Blacks training camp last month.
The 2010 IRB Junior World Player of the Year scored three tries in the Hurricanes' routing of the Melbourne Rebels last weekend and, assuming he comes through today's clash with the Waratahs unscathed, he is seen as a nailed-on certainty to start against Ireland next weekend.
Comfortable on either wing, Savea says the biggest adjustment since being called into New Zealand's extended training squad has been becoming comfortable around boyhood heroes like Dan Carter and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
"I'm just nervous really," said Savea (below) last week. "For me, he (McCaw) is sort of hard to talk to. I'm the sort of person who doesn't talk much in a group environment. You don't feel like you can't speak. It's definitely open to anyone and I have to talk a lot more."
Israel Dagg, who made his debut against Ireland in 2010, is likely to be at full-back next to Savea and is a huge admirer of the young winger.
"When you come in here it's pretty intimidating. You've got some faces that you watch on TV and you're representing your country, so just don't hold back, get out there and express yourself," was Dagg's advice.
"He's just a big boy, he's not scared of running it up the guts too. He is a nightmare to defend against, puts those big knees up and knocks you in the head."
Tuigamala's greatest weakness was training and when his discipline slipped so did his waistline with knock-on effects on his performace.
However, although Savea revealed in one profile that his greatest ambition would be "to own my own McDonalds", there is no consolation fitness-wise for Ireland as he heads into this week in peak condition.
New Zealand insiders expect as many as seven newcomers to be included when the squad is named tomorrow. Savea, second-row Brodie Retallick and scrum-half Aaron Smith are seen as front-runners for Test selection.
Possible New Zealand squad (30):
Sam Cane, Dan Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Tamati Ellison, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Ma'a Nonu, Richie McCaw (capt), Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Julian Savea, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ben Tameifuna, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Sam Whitelock, Sonny Bill Williams, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Victor Vito.