Switching Ardie Savea making a mockery of back-row intricacies

Somewhat lost, certainly overshadowed, by Beauden Barrett's two-try milestone Test in Cardiff was another sighting of the world's form loose forward.

Barrett etching his name alongside the modern-day greats by becoming the All Blacks' 11th Test centurion was always going to be a momentous occasion for the playmaker and team. He duly celebrated in style, snaffling two intercepts to bag the first and last tries and be named man of the match in the 54-16 demolition of the weakened Welsh.

While Barrett displayed the anticipation and speed that has punctuated his career, the man of the match mantle perhaps carried a touch of sentimental value -- as Ardie Savea was the clear standout.

Six, seven or eight, it does not matter where Savea plays. His influence in the last two Tests of note against South Africa and Wales is unparalleled.

Captaining the All Blacks from openside against the Springboks Savea did everything but carry his men over the line in the one-point defeat. Sam Whitelock has since resumed this year's revolving All Blacks captaincy for their northern tour but Savea clearly relished the chance to lead his country.

Switching to No. 8 in Cardiff, Savea's speed off the back of the scrum, work-rate, leg drive in contact and offloading abilities consistently put the All Blacks on the front foot while setting up TJ Perenara's opening try.

Savea seamlessly switching between loose forward positions makes a mockery of the intricacies involved in each role.

Most consider Savea's natural habitat to be openside; best when hunting breakdown turnovers and getting his hands on the ball as much as possible. Yet he is equally damaging in the eight jersey where he's allowed to roam the edges, use footwork to beat opponents and burst off the scrum. He's also started five times at No 6 for the All Blacks.

Selected as the All Blacks' first non-playing apprentice on the 2013 European tour, such was his prodigious talent as a 19-year-old, Savea had to wait three more years for his Test debut but he has since evolved into a constant presence and world-class force.

This year he will surely be among the nominations for World Rugby Player of the Year. Anything less would be an injustice.

The All Blacks are blessed with supreme depth in their loose forward ranks. Sam Cane will continue his comeback - after missing six months following shoulder and chest surgeries - against Italy in Rome this weekend.

Shannon Frizell is set for his first Test appearance since July, after being excluded from the Rugby Championship in Australia while his assault case was dismissed.

In Cane's absence, Dalton Papalii made a notable impression at openside against Wales after recovering from a niggly hamstring issue to claim a try and impose his physicality.

While Ethan Blackadder didn't take his chance as expected from blindside last week, with his hands letting him down at times, his relentless work-rate, which shone against the Boks, marks him as one of the finds of the season.

Eleven Tests into his career Luke Jacobson is proving another highly versatile option, comfortable at either blindside or No 8. His quick feet, defensive qualities and lineout ability continue to grow and at 24-years-old he has future leadership potential.

Akira Ioane, having demonstrated his destructive running game and breadth of skill against the Wallabies and Pumas, has been asked to improve his physical presence after being exposed there by the Boks. Ioane's Blues teammate Hoskins Sotutu has seen limited chances but he, too, remains a dynamic No. 8.

Such extensive talent and, yet, Savea's form has cast a shadow over his fellow loose forwards and, indeed, his international rivals.

While he won't feature against Italy, as the All Blacks use the world No. 14 as a chance to rotate their 39-man squad, Savea will be integral in the tour-defining Tests against Ireland and France to conclude the season.

After running for 66 metres - many of those with Welsh defenders clinging off arms and legs - Savea offered an insight into the mentality that's driving him.

"It doesn't matter what position, I try to nail my week, which means I'm able to have fun, have a smile on my face and just jam. I felt that against Wales. I'm going to try to go with that over the next couple of games if I do get an opportunity.

"Things happen so quickly in the game. Plum [forwards coach John Plumtree] mentioned to get my hands on the ball whenever I can. I just found myself in the right place at the right time. Then it's close my eyes, bite down on my mouthguard and just go, and if you can stop me, you stop me. But I'm going to fight through it.

"Some of us hadn't played footy for 3-4 weeks after South Africa II. We used that week [in Washington] to get the rust out, and we knew it was going to be a massive game, a massive crowd ... we wanted to nail the basics, and we did that well. We're still giving silly penalties away but that's something we can deal with."

Debate about the best balance of the All Blacks loose forwards will intensify as Cane gradually eases his way back into the Test fold.

Next year, when Cane regains the captaincy and openside role, Savea will likely find a permanent home at No. 8 which will allow him to further hone his craft there. The six jersey will be hotly contested, with an added focus on not compromising the All Blacks' lineout options.

At 28-years-old Savea is entering the prime of his career. In the midst of contract negotiations with New Zealand Rugby, and with the 2023 World Cup on the horizon, his compelling form has probably added another zero to his bottom line.