Savea 'probably better' than Lomu, says All Blacks coach
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has inadvertently created a storm of debate in rugby-mad New Zealand after declaring that winger Julian Savea is "probably better" than former great Jonah Lomu.
The 24-year-old Savea has previously tried to play down such comparisons, but Hansen's comments before the Rugby Championship clash with South Africa on Saturday have reignited the debate.
Lomu, who burst onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup and arguably became rugby's first globally recognised player, was considered a freak because of his size and speed that created problems for opposition wingers.
Savea is marginally shorter - he stands 1.92m tall to Lomu's 1.96m - and lighter (107kg to 119kg), but it is the way in which they challenge defences and score tries that has been seen as the biggest similarity.
Savea's strike rate, 27 tries in 27 Tests is among the best in the world, while Lomu scored 37 tries in 63 Tests. Lomu had scored 16 tries in his first 27 Tests.
Neither have scored a try against South Africa.
Hansen, however, felt that Savea has a wider skill set than the barnstorming Lomu, who was afflicted with a kidney disease that greatly affected his career and forced him into a premature retirement.
"I think he's probably better (than Lomu)" Hansen said in South Africa ahead of the match at Johannesburg's Ellis Park. "He can do more things than Jonah.
"Jonah was a great player, but I think Julian has got more to his game to be honest and that's saying something. I genuinely believe that.
"He's very good going back, under the high ball, with the ball on the ground, as well as being a greater carrier so I think he's right up there."
New Zealand's Herald on Sunday rugby reporter Gregor Paul agreed with Hansen's assessment on Friday, listing several reasons why Savea was a better player than Lomu, mostly relating to his workrate and defensive capabilities.
"Savea has more game than Lomu. As devastating as Lomu was with the ball in hand, he did carry a liability factor on defence where he wasn't the quickest on the turn," Paul wrote.
"Savea is a brutal head-on defender, he lines men up and smacks them down. He knows when to come off his wing looking to shut down attacks and he's agile enough to ensure he doesn't get beaten on the outside.
"Savea was prone to being a little lazy earlier in his career. But not now. He's good at getting off his wing and looking for work and injecting himself into the game.
"Lomu was good at that, too, especially at blasting into the midfield. But he wasn't as good or as eager to track back on defence and help out the other wing and fullback.
"Not in the way Savea does."