All Black ex­clu­sive

Julian Savea’s French fam­ily dream

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - What A Week -

Stand­ing on the kitchen bench, her lit­tle fists in the air and her smile wide, eight-month-old Jude Savea is shriek­ing with hap­pi­ness as hip-hop blasts from a speaker.

But the grin on her face is noth­ing com­pared to that of her dad, rugby hard man Julian, who’s hold­ing her as she bobs up and down to the mu­sic.

“She def­i­nitely likes mu­sic and danc­ing – she’s like me!” he says over the top of Jude’s ex­cited squeals.

“He thinks he can sing as well,” chimes in wife Fa­tima, who’s rushed over to try to put a pair of sil­ver shoes on her daugh­ter’s feet in prepa­ra­tion for our cam­era.

While Julian has had a rugby ca­reer few could dream of, be­com­ing one of the All Blacks’ high­est try scor­ers and of­ten be­ing com­pared to the late great Jonah Lomu, it’s his fam­ily, he says, that’s his great­est achieve­ment. “Be­ing a dad tops ev­ery­thing,” Julian, 28, says, hug­ging Jude tight.

“And Jude’s a daddy’s girl,” adds Fa­tima, 23, rolling her eyes. “It’s not fair. I do ev­ery­thing for her and the first word of out her mouth is ‘Dada’. Typ­i­cal!”

It’s be­cause of his de­sire to do right by his fam­ily that the for­mer Hur­ri­cane made his big­gest de­ci­sion ever – to start again in France.

We’re chat­ting to the gor­geous cou­ple just days be­fore they’re due to hop on a plane and be­gin their new life in Car­queiranne, where Julian’s ac­cepted a con­tract to play for glam­our club Toulon. Giv­ing up ev­ery­thing he knows – in­clud­ing his All Black jer­sey – was a tough choice, Julian ad­mits. But de­spite the fact his mum’s still not too happy about it, he and Fa­tima are ready for an ad­ven­ture of a life­time with their lit­tle girl.

“Well, Mum got emo­tional when I moved down the road, so I knew this wasn’t go­ing to be easy,” he says.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It was a last-minute de­ci­sion, which is why the last two months have been so hec­tic. I weighed up the risks of it all, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to make sure I could look af­ter my fam­ily. It was the right time.”

Fa­tima, who mar­ried Julian al­most three years ago af­ter a whirl­wind ro­mance, agrees it’s a great op­por­tu­nity.

“In the back of our minds, we knew his time was up in New Zealand rugby,” she tells. “And it’ll be like a lit­tle OE.

We’ve never done that be­fore – I was only 21 when I got mar­ried and Julian’s been play­ing sport ever since he left school.”

The hard­est part is say­ing good­bye to fam­ily and friends, in­clud­ing his brother and fel­low All Black Ardie, who wel­comed daugh­ter Kobe just one day af­ter Jude was born.

“We didn’t plan it!” in­sists Julian. “It just hap­pened! But yeah, fam­ily and friends will be the big one.”

Julian will also be much fur­ther away from his el­dest daugh­ter, six-year-old Cora, who lives in Mel­bourne with her mother.

“She’s like a lit­tle adult now, she’s amaz­ing,” he says. “She’s busy with school, bas­ket­ball and make-up! Ev­ery time we Face Time her, she’s got make-up on! But the world’s so small and we’ll be back lots, so it will be OK.”

Of course, there are the lit­tle things they’ll miss – a suit­case will be loaded up with good cho­co­late and cof­fee – but the pair are thrilled to be em­bark­ing on a new jour­ney with Jude.

“Trav­el­ling with a baby is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, but it’s one we’re ex­cited about,” says Fa­tima. “It’s go­ing to be such a new ex­pe­ri­ence for both of us. I was born in Iraq and lived in Jordan for a year be­fore we came here, but I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing apart from New Zealand, and Julian’s never lived any­where but Welling­ton!”

Their French isn’t great, the pair ad­mit, de­spite the fact Julian’s rock­ing a new Gucci T-shirt with French scrawled right across the front for our photo shoot.

“Is it French?” he asks, look­ing down. “Oh, yeah, it is. Well, all I know is ‘Par­lez-vous Anglais?’ And if they say no, I’m stuck!”

“We’ll have lessons as soon as we get there,” nods Fa­tima, who’s still a lit­tle gob­s­macked with where her life is head­ing.

“I was think­ing about that the other day and, man, we’ve come a long way. We were just kids when we met – I’d just turned 19! And we got en­gaged so quickly, within the year of meet­ing each other. It was a re­li­gious thing for me. My fam­ily’s Mus­lim and when you’re Mus­lim, you can’t just date and be in pub­lic with a boy. When I told my par­ents about Julian, they pretty much said, ‘OK, well, get en­gaged.’ Lucky he liked me!”

And two years af­ter their fairy­tale wed­ding, they wel­comed Jude, whose name in Ara­bic means “gen­eros­ity”.

“Julian’s hon­estly the best fa­ther ever,” gushes Fa­tima. “He’s so hands-on, which shocked me. Grow­ing up, my dad was never like that. I’m just so thank­ful for him.”

“Stop! You’ll make me blush,” Julian protests. “We’re just very ex­cited about this new chap­ter.”

Hey, Jude, who’s a daddy’s girl?! Julian goes gooey in the pres­ence of his wee daugh­ter. “Be­ing a dad tops ev­ery­thing,” he says.

Wife Fa­tima says the tim­ing is per­fect for the fam­ily to move to Provence. “It’ll be like a lit­tle OE. We’ve never done that,” she says.

The All Black fends off an at­tack by the Lions in 2017.

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