22 Dec 2023

Ardie Savea on 2023 and being in a new kids' book

From Nine To Noon, 11:32 am on 22 December 2023

After a whirlwind year, Ardie Savea is loving a change of scene in the Japanese mountains.

"It's refreshing. I feel like a kid going to school for the first time," the World Rugby Player of the Year tells Kathryn Ryan.

New Zealand rugby player Ardie Savea in Kobe, Japan

New Zealand rugby player Ardie Savea in Kobe, Japan Photo: @ardiesavea

After almost taking the All Blacks to World Cup glory this year, Ardie is currently playing with the Kobelco Kobe Steelers and living in the city of Kobe.

"I'm loving it, meeting my new teammates, linking out with some old teammates ... just experiencing something new."

Then there's the "massive blessing" of telling his own origin story in the new children's book One Good Kiwi.

The journey of Ardie and his brother Julian ("Jules") to both becoming All Blacks is told with a message about love, Ardie says, of family and sport.

Growing up, the Savea brothers – "two quite active and creative kids" – received a lot of support from family members.

"There's a saying that it takes a village to raise a kid and I think that was the case with me and my brother. We relied on aunties and uncles, family, friends, our teammates' parents, they would offer us rides to our games and training.

"When you're older, you kind of appreciate and I'm really grateful for those people."

Ardie says he modelled himself on his older brother.

"I was kind of a quiet observer and was getting inspired by him without even saying anything, just through his actions. I think that was the dynamic - I was just observing my older brother and wanting to be like them. And yeah, it kind of just played out that both of us were blessed to play professional rugby."

Ardie and Julian Savea at Hurricanes training.

Ardie and Julian Savea in 2020 Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Their journey wasn't always easy, though.

"With great things comes with great sacrifice. A lot of good things don't come easy. There's gonna be a lot of challenges along the way, but you just got to keep at it and if you love it, you'll get there."

On the rugby field, Ardie is committed to leading by example.

"Actions speak louder than words and people follow what you do. That's always been how I've operated through my rugby career. I try and lead by action and if men want to follow they follow."

He sees this same philosophy reflected in the leadership styles of Victor Vito, Ma'a Allan Nonu and Dane Coles.

"Most of them didn't really speak much but just led through action. And when they did speak, they were quite powerful. Ma'a, even though he was a big leader and a superstar, he was amongst the young boys having a laugh and hanging out with them and being on the ground. Those are the kinds of things that stand out."

In the two years leading up to the World Cup in September, the All Blacks were "closer and tighter" than ever, Ardie says.

Despite their 12-11 loss to South Africa, he found a lot of positives in the experience.

"It was one of the most enjoyable tournaments that I've had off the field – connecting with the boys but a lot of learnings on the field, too.

"It'd be good to get together with some of the group and reflect and get learning so if we're blessed enough to be in the team next year we can take those learnings and improve and be better and grow ourselves."

In the meantime, Ardie is looking forward to his family flying in just before Christmas.

"It's going to be awesome for the kids to be able to experience Japan, experience Kobe, meet some new family members and new uncles and just really enjoy the time here."

Ardie Savea is an ambassador for the digital koha app One Good Kiwi. All proceeds from the One Good Kiwi book go to the "amazing" charity Kiwi Christmas Books.