Mitre 10 Cup sides line up for Julian Savea as he makes New Zealand rugby return at No. 12

Julian Savea savoured his first match back on New Zealand soil for two years and admits he faces a dilemma about which provincial team to represent in this year’s Mitre 10 Cup.

Savea completed a busy 80 minutes at second five-eighth for his childhood club Oriental-Rongotai as they went down 20-15 to Poneke at Kilbirnie Park in Wellington on Saturday afternoon.

The hitout was Savea’s first in New Zealand since leaving for France in 2018. Since then he returned home in May and signed a short-term replacement contract with the Hurricanes for the remainder of Super Rugby Aotearoa which finishes next week.

The 30-year-old carried strongly and looked fit and trim in his return to action.

“It was good to finally play some footy. It’s been a long time,” Savea said after a match enjoyed by well over 500 spectators on a typically crisp day in the capital. “It’s special to come back and play for my home club and get out here and get some game time.

“It’s a positive step, and whatever the future holds we’ll look forward to that.

“It’s been good mentally to freshen up and get back amongst a team environment. It’s another step forward in terms of the goal of trying to get another contract.”

Wellington, Auckland and North Harbour are believed to be interested in signing Savea for this year’s Mitre 10 Cup campaign which starts on September 11.

While he remained tight-lipped at this stage, Savea admitted he faces a difficult decision as to where his professional return will come.

“I’ll keep that to myself at the moment. I’ll see how it goes. We’re still talking and negotiating.

“For me it’s just deciding where I want to play. I’m based up in Auckland now so whether I want to come back down or stay up there, whatever is best for me and my family.”

Savea scored 46 tries in 54 tests on the wing for the All Blacks between 2012 and 2017 but largely featured in the midfield with Toulon.

“I haven’t played wing for almost two years so playing 12 is nothing new to me at the moment. I’ll be working on my winger skills again so we’ll see how it all goes.

“I don’t mind wherever the coaches need me. I do like having the option of being able to play 12.”

With Ma’a Nonu helping coach Ories this season Savea has plenty of advice about the midfield role on hand.

“Of course he’s one of the best 12s in the world – you’ve definitely got to get tips off him. He’s been a big inspiration for the community and for our club.”

Savea also paid tribute to Poneke lock Cole Stewart who notched his century of club matches.

“I’m pretty proud of him. It’s no mean feat to play one game so to play 100 is awesome.”