"Yes, man, straight up!" - All Blacks star Ardie Savea on what rugby can learn from the USA
"Yeah, mate, it does leave a bit of a sour taste."
Ardie Savea is a typical All Black. The wins taste sweet, but the ones that get away often linger longer.
Early November and the Hurricanes and New Zealand back-row is sitting in his hotel room and chatting with us over a 'Zoom' call before he sets off for the next leg of his country's European tour - destination, Italy.
He is 57 caps into a Test career that started back in June 2016 and had the honour, earlier this year, of captaining the All Blacks in another winning Rugby Championship campaign. Still, as we chat to him, Savea reflects on a sense of frustration that New Zealand 'weren't able to knock that last one over' and sweep the series by beating the Springboks in their final game.
Since that championship wrapped, the ABs have travelled to the United States, Wales and Italy as part of their end-of-season swing. All three games were comfortably won, but challenges against Ireland and France await in the coming weeks.
Ardie Savea on European city he most wants to visit
Speaking to us as part of INEOS Sports, who have released a dedicated pro sports sanitiser 'to minimise lost training days', Savea is in top form.
Asked what game he is looking forward to playing most, Savea slaps his giant mitts together and smiles, "Good question, mate!"
"Whenever the opponent," he says, "I put pressure on myself to perform. When I put on the jersey, I have to perform for the jersey. And it doesn't matter what team I play. In terms of the city and the team to play, it's Italy in Rome. I'm looking forward to seeing that city, and all it's history."
The All Blacks would go on to defeat a stout Italian side 47-9 but needed a late flurry of scores at the end of both halves to make that final scoreline look cosier than it was. Up next, a date with Ireland in Dublin.
There is a sense of regret that facing Eddie Jones' England is not part of this year's itinerary. Not only do New Zealand want to test themselves against the best sides, there would be a chance to right some wrongs of their 2019 World Cup semi-final loss.
"People always want to see that," says Savea. "It's disappointing that we can't, but it doesn't take away from the other Test matches we have, coming up. They're just as big."
🇺🇸 know how to hold events man. That was special to be a part of. Fed Ex & fans take a bow👏🏽🔥@skystadium surely we can do sme stuff 2 spice up rugby games😍.
Concerts b4 games - local artists perform, bbqs on the walk up 2 stadium for fans. If only🙃
Fans what ya think?🤞🏽
— ardie savea (@ardiesavea) October 23, 2021
Ardie Savea on tail-gating and Club World Cup
Savea sent out the gushing tweet [above] when the All Blacks were playing the USA at FedEx Field, in Washington. He was calling on rugby authorities in New Zealand to take note and repeat the scenes before big Super Rugby games back home.
"Yes, man, straight up! It was awesome. I didn't play in the game, but was coming into the stadium on the bus along this long, straight road, about 300 metres. There were all these cars parked up. I think they call it tail-gating in America. People were just having barbies, the people were all dressed up and having a good time.
"It was like more than a rugby game - it was this massive event. Probably 70% of the people coming along may not have known exactly what was going on, but they came for the event, and to see the All Blacks. In New Zealand, especially, we could take a leaf out of that [book] and it'd be great at bringing more people along and into the stadiums. Make it a spectacle."
For his final footy question to ponder, we shoot the prospect of a Club World Cup with the best sides from both hemispheres having a crack off each other for the title of world's best.
"That'd be awesome, mate," Savea replies. "We talk about wanting to be the best club in the world. There's no better way of finding that out. We have to have that game or competition. That'd be awesome when the Hurricanes win that Super Rugby comp. Then, who we play, I don't know.
When Hurricanes vs. Munster is suggested, Savea breaks into a huge grin. "Yes, Munster! I'm up for that!"
Ardie Savea prepared for "war" against Ireland
Reminded of the All Blacks' 16-9 defeat to Ireland in November 2018 - he started in the back row with Liam Squire and Kieran Read - his memory needs refreshing. "Did we lose in Dublin?"
Assured that they did - albeit before utterly avenging that loss in the 2019 World Cup quarter final - Savea jokes that he can't fully recall if he played in that one [he started at openside]. "I've got a bad memory, brother!"
"The teams always turn up, and step it up, against the ABs," Savea says. "It's going to be no different against Ireland.
"In front of their home fans, it's going to be massive. It's exciting, mate. They will be frothing to play us, especially after the World Cup. They will be clamouring to get stuck into us. I think it's going to be a war. It's going to be awesome!"
What stands out clearer to Savea is the 2016 game against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Joe Schmidt's side had beaten New Zealand 40-29 at Soldier Field, in Chicago, and the rematch came only a fortnight later in a febrile Dublin.
"That was my first year with the All Blacks," says Savea. "It was the first time in a while [19 matches] that the ABs had lost. It was serious. Those weeks leading into that Test match in Dublin, there was a bit of edge going into that.
"It's never nice when you don't get the dub [win]. It's the same feeling we had when we lost to South Africa. We always pride ourselves of the honour, every time we put on the jersey, so it was a big one."
Asked about coming up against a rising French team in Paris, Savea says the prospect is "exciting" but he refuses to read too much into it being a potential 2023 World Cup Final dress rehearsal.
"I've just started watching the Top 14 and seeing all the French players. I've got a few mates that are playing in that competition so it's going to be massive. But I'm not even thinking one or two weeks ahead. We're on tour for 16 weeks and it's a long time to be away from home, so I'm trying to take it all week by week."
On the INEOS Sports range, which the All Blacks have been using on their travels, Savea is enthusiastic. Given how the sporting world was put on ice for so long in 2020, the Wellington native is delighted that companies and sporting bodies are out there looking at solutions to get people training and playing safely again.
"Yeah, man," he says, "that's massive. The partnership is perfect timing and it's a perfect fit.
"To play sport and play rugby, we have to do all we can to try not catch Covid. Part of that is hygiene and us being extra careful. Each player has been given two hand sanitisers each and we sanitise, pretty much, all the time... When get off the plane, when we eat, all the time. We just have to be squeaky clean.
"When we're in the gym, we have to clean our plates and the equipment down. It's not how it used to be, normal life. It's a perfect fit, coming together with INEOS and their product. Especially with Covid potentially being here for a while, our hygiene needs to be on-point."