Rugby World Cup: All Blacks hail Ardie Savea's leadership after man-of-the-match display against Italy

The All Blacks have no shortage of leaders at this year's Rugby World Cup.

But the efforts of Ardie Savea in place of regular captain Sam Cane have been exemplary for a side hitting top gear at the right time.

When Cane went down with a back injury on the eve of the tournament opener against France, Savea stepped in to lead the side, as he'd also done in Melbourne against Australia earlier this year.

And despite losing to Les Bleus, Savea's efforts on field have never wavered.

On Saturday, with Cane on the bench in his injury comeback, Savea's display against Italy was exemplary, and was named man of the match for good measure.

Ardie Savea and Sam Cane.
Ardie Savea and Sam Cane. Photo credit: Getty Images

In 80 minutes, the 29-year-old scored twice, assisted another, ran for 100 metres, beat five defenders, made four tackles and won one turnover for his evening's work.

In Cane's absence, the All Blacks have more than one quality option to assume leadership.

Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Codie Taylor have all captained the Crusaders to Super Rugby titles, while Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick have all captained the All Blacks in one form or another before.

But even with more experienced options ahead of him, Savea continues to show the rest of his teammates his worth as a leader.

"It's hugely inspiring," said Anton Lienert-Brown. "He's one of the best players in the world.

"There's different types of leaders, but one of the most important things is that you perform out there on the field.

"Ardie does that in bucket loads, every time. He was pretty special [against Italy]."

Ardie Savea.
Ardie Savea. Photo credit: Getty Images

Saturday's 96-17 victory also marked the return to the starting side of Jordie Barrett and Shannon Frizell, neither of whom had played any part in the tournament so far.

Their impact was noticeable from the first whistle. Frizell in particular has gone from strength to strength this year, and has comfortably earned the No.6 jersey.  

"They've been massive," said Richie Mo'unga. "You saw in the weekend what they bring, especially Shannon, being a key person in the lineout, but also his carrying around the field.

"You can't replace the size and the power that he brings. It's good to have those players inject themselves back in this part of the tournament.

"It's up to them to keep driving the standard that's been there before."

But with one final pool match against Uruguay left to determine the All Blacks' spot in the quarter-finals, the job isn't done.

The loss to France still leaves no room to breathe against the South Americans, who have proven a nuisance in their three matches already played at this tournament.

For Mo'unga, though, facing Uruguay on Friday will be the last chance for players to prove their worth and earn spots for any prospective quarter-final later this month. 

"We have a good balance of edge and boys coming back," he continued. "No position is safe.

"You see us play on the weekend, but throughout the week, boys are pushing each other. There's a whole heap of niggle, but it's all healthy.

"Boys are wanting to put their hands up, there's still a lot of boys who haven't played much yet, but have been training really well."

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