WELLINGTON Rookie loose forward Ardie Savea has been given his opportunity in the All Blacks number seven jersey and for the multitude of his fans who have raised him to cult status, he must now show he is more than just an explosive cameo off the bench.
Savea was named to start at openside flanker for the Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday (kickoff 0735 GMT) after Sam Cane suffered a hamstring injury that ruled him out for up to six weeks.
The 22-year-old Savea has made five appearances off the bench since his debut against Wales in Auckland in June.
Such was his impact after just 19 minutes at Eden Park that the following week, admittedly on his home ground in Wellington, a fervent crowd burst into chants of "Ardie! Ardie! Ardie!" when they saw him warming up.
The fact the dynamic Savea scored a try from more than 30 metres only increased the clamour in the rugby-mad country for his elevation above Cane, who had spent four years as Richie McCaw's understudy.
Cane, however, has taken his game to another level since McCaw's retirement and his core defensive work, clearing out at the breakdown and attempt to steal or slow the opposition ball has had some even daring to whisper 'Richie who?'.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was initially cagey about giving Savea the starting spot last week after Cane was injured in the 57-22 victory over Argentina in Hamilton.
His biggest concerns has been whether Savea could handle the intensely physical nature of rugby test for 80 minutes, though interest will also focus on whether he executes his core skills as well as he does the flashy ones.
"It will be two or three steps up from where he has been," Hansen told reporters on Thursday. "But look, he has come off the bench before. He knows what it is going to feel like. He just has to go out and do it."
Savea's inclusion was the only change to Hansen's starting side, with flyhalf Lima Sopoaga coming onto the bench for the injured Aaron Cruden.
While the Springboks are New Zealand's traditional rivals, they have struggled this year under new coach Allister Coetzee and were poor defensively and on attack in their 23-17 loss to the Wallabies last week.
That lead to intense criticism in South Africa, with their media labelling Coetzee as 'out of his depth', while the team, who are missing several players due to long term injuries, were getting worse each week.
"The Boks, in search of excellence, surely have to aim for more than losing efforts described as 'spirited'," South African rugby journalist Mark Keohane wrote in a column.
"They can't each week take comfort or be excused sanction with a belief that each defeat is a learning curve for a bunch of inexperienced youngsters.
"This is the Springboks we're are talking about, not a third-tier evolving rugby nation."
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)