Family

Why Julian Savea chose family over the All Blacks as he embarks on a new life in France with wife Fatima and baby Jude

Giving up everything he knows – including his All Black jersey – was a tough choice, Julian admits. "I don’t think it’s hit me yet."

By Kelly Bertrand

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 Savea, 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.

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

"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 FaceTime 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."

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