Don't poke the bear: Waratahs' plan for Ardie Savea
The NSW Waratahs, wisely, have no plans to rattle Ardie Savea's cage when the destructive back-rower makes his return from suspension in a pivotal Super Rugby Pacific encounter in Wellington.
Coming off a lacklustre loss to the Rebels in Melbourne, the Waratahs concede starting their campaign with a one-from-four record would leave the 2022 quarter-finalists playing catch-up.
Winning in New Zealand has proven elusive enough for Australian sides in recent years, without having to deal with a smarting Savea returning from the long run after being banned for a game for a throat-slitting gesture towards Rebels halfback Ryan Louwrens.
"Don't poke the bear I reckon," Waratahs lock Ned Hanigan said on Wednesday when asked how best to nullify the All Blacks star at Sky Stadium.
"An unreal player. His ball carrying abilities and skills in disrupting what you want to do with the ball, he's a back-rower that's considered world class for a reason."
Fresh from re-signing with the Waratahs until the end of 2024, flanker Charlie Gamble acknowledged the mighty challenge ahead.
"Ardie's Ardie, he's probably the best player in the world at the moment," Gamble said.
"It's all about bringing that energy and that work rate around the field.
"If you feel like you're competing for absolutely everything then ... if he's a better player, if he's carrying a lot stronger than you, if he's making line breaks, it is what it is.
"That's Ardie Savea. There's going to be parts of the game where he's going to do some outstanding stuff on the field. It's just about limiting that.
"We'll be doing as much as we can to reply to that. It's an exciting challenge."
While Savea has only been watching on from the sidelines for a week, Hanigan last played for NSW back in 2020 and plans on packing his own punch in his long-awaited comeback game after a three-season stint in Japan.
A knee injury delayed the former Wallabies star's return and he's now champing at the bit to get stuck in.
"I can't wait. I was really disappointed I didn't get there in round one," he said.
"It was something we'd built into across the summer and the goal was to be out there.
"I'd played parts of the two trials and just felt really good going into but got cut short so had to get the knee right.
"Honestly, I can't even put it into words. It's going to be great."
The lure of another Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in France in September, is also driving the 27-year-old.
"Anyone in Australian footy at the moment who is eligible to play, you've got to have your sights set on it because it's the epitome of sport," Hanigan said.
"It's where you want to be. The best against the best.
"But there's a lot of footy to be played between now and then."