Ardie Savea loving coaching, culture and fans in Japan

Publish Date
Tuesday, 2 April 2024, 8:43AM

By Kris Shannon

It didn’t take long for Ardie Savea to know he had made the right choice in signing with the Kobe Steelers.

Looking to experience a new culture while escaping the familiarity of New Zealand’s rugby cycle, Savea opted for the unknown of Japan’s seventh-largest city, having previously visited only Tokyo on tour with the All Blacks and Hurricanes.

But with former teammates Ngani Laumape easing the transition and coach Dave Rennie setting a welcoming tone, the veteran All Black immediately felt at home.

“I just wanted something fresh and I didn’t know what I was expecting coming to Kobe,” Savea said. “I rocked up and all the boys were singing Samoan, Tongan, Japanese songs. Everyone had learnt them during preseason.

“I love Rens’ detail and his coaching, and I love how he incorporates culture and makes sure everybody — including the families over here — are all welcome together, because you’ve got so many different backgrounds here.

“What’s really filled my cup is coming here and learning the Japanese culture, the language and getting to know the Japanese boys and the brothers in the team. That’s been the most refreshing thing for me — feeling young, new in the team.

“Getting to know the brothers and learning, but also sharing my knowledge to some of the Japanese boys in terms of skillsets and rugby.”

The world player of the year has a bit to offer in that regard. But Savea is hardly alone in having the rugby smarts to impart to less experienced members of the squad.

The loose forward counts himself lucky to have joined a team under the tutelage of a coach like Rennie, the former Chiefs and Wallabies guru who began his career in Wellington well before Savea’s time.

“I’m loving Rens and the style of coaching,” Savea said. “It’s actually a real blessing to come to Japan and you’ve got a world-class coach that’s coaching the team.

“Having different coaches like Rens and other foreign coaches in the team — how they coach and what they see, just learning and picking their brains — has just been really refreshing.

“Hopefully I can look back in a year or two and being here has had a good payoff in terms of how my career goes.”

The 30-year-old is already on the path to greatness but that doesn’t mean Savea has avoided unwarranted criticism. Until now, that is, with the Japanese fan culture offering a welcome mental break and leaving the demands entirely within the team environment.

“Kobe lost three games in a row and the fans would turn up to our gates, to our stadiums, with the posters and with the signs,” Savea said. “They love us regardless of if we win, we lose, we draw.

“Over in New Zealand, lose one game, they’re like, drop his ass. Talk about that mental-health question, that’s real in New Zealand.

“Players without even knowing — I sometimes do it to this day and I’m experienced — just scroll through Facebook and you see an article on yourself, and you’re tempted to not read the comments but you read the comments, and it’s got ‘this guy sucks, drop his ass’.

“Here in Japan, you’ve got none of that. Fans love you. The only pressure, the only demand, you put on yourself, and that mental side is the expectation within the team, your coach and yourself.

“You don’t have to deal with the other external factors, which I find is something that’s different to the rest of the world. In Japan, the fans love you.”

After only a few months, it sounds like the feeling is mutual.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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