Sir John Kirwan says Steven Luatua is going through a "difficult time" in terms of his form, but Jerome Kaino, a loose forward built on similar lines who took time to fulfil his promise, believes the 23-year-old is on the right track.
Suffering from what appears to be a classic case of second-year syndrome, Luatua, an All Black last year, is struggling to replicate the form that made him a standout for the Blues and put him in a black jersey.
He is on the reserves bench for tomorrow's match against the Reds at Eden Park for the second game running and will need to show more aggression and directness to force his way past loose forward rivals Kaino and Peter Saili.
"He needs to work hard, he knows that," Kirwan said. "He came on and made an impact the other night and he needs to keep doing that. He needs to force his way back into the side. It's a difficult time for him but he's taking it the right way and he's just working harder."
Saili, who swaps from No8 to No6 for the Blues this weekend, is the man effectively keeping Luatua out. Saili doesn't have the finesse of Luatua but has an inherent toughness that allows him to keep going forward. After being out-muscled against the Hurricanes and Brumbies, the Blues improved in this area against the big Waratahs forwards and it's that quality which Kirwan is looking for again against the Reds.
"Both of them [Kaino and Saili] bring an edge, a physical edge, so we want them both out there."
Kaino, who was close to his World Cup best against the Waratahs, knows what Luatua is going through. The 31-year-old burst on to the international scene in 2004 after making a name for himself with the Under-21 World Championship team.
He had an impressive skill set for a loose forward but had nowhere near the physical edge he has now and paid the price. He didn't become a regular starter for the All Blacks until 2008 and by that time had made his weakness his strength. That sort of change takes honesty, hard work and commitment, and Kaino said yesterday he believed Luatua had what it took to turn things around.
"Steven's going well, he's been training well and he's got a great attitude as far as where he is at. We've got healthy competition in the team where we push each other and bring out the best in each other."
Kaino, back after two years in Japan following the World Cup, said he had had no contact with the All Black selectors.
"I know the competition that's in front of me. I've prepared myself for any situation so I just have to play as well as I can to be considered."
One of those rivals, Luatua, will be keen to press his claims as the June test series draws closer. Midfielder Francis Saili is in doubt for tomorrow after limping from training. Jackson Willison, George Moala and/or Pita Ahki are likely replacements should Saili be ruled out.