Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Lock a force to be reckoned with

Patrick Tuipulotu showed early promise and then followed through with consistently impressive play
Patrick Tuipulotu's bulk and willingness to clatter into defences makes him a high-value impact player. Picture / APN
Patrick Tuipulotu's bulk and willingness to clatter into defences makes him a high-value impact player. Picture / APN

As the Blues prepare to review a season full of missed opportunities, there will be some bright spots to light the gloom.

Bryn Hall has proven to be a halfback of promise and Jerome Kaino has been immense on his return from Japan when nobody knew how he would cope after two years away. The most significant highlight, though, just might be the rise and rise of lock Patrick Tuipulotu, a quietly-spoken 21-year-old who put his hand up to fill a problem position at the franchise and who forced his way not only into the starting line-up in his first season, but also the All Blacks.

"It's been a stellar year for me," he admitted yesterday. "I never could have predicted this. I've been fast tracked into everything."

Tuipulotu has deserved everything he has received this season, including the award as players' player of the day in the 21-13 defeat to the Crusaders last weekend.

He believed he would only fill a development-type role, even after Culum Retallick was ruled out without playing a match. Down to one fit and experienced lock in Tom Donnelly, the Blues sent an SOS to Hayden Triggs but the former Chiefs and Highlanders player wasn't able to force his way past Tuipulotu for a starting spot.

Tuipulotu's promise could be seen at the second match of the season, when he was a standout in the big victory over the Crusaders at Eden Park and he backed it up throughout the season in an incredibly consistent display despite his relative youth.

At 120kg and nearly 2m tall, Tuipulotu is a big man, but even he is smaller than Waratahs giants Will Skelton and Kane Douglas. The physical and mental strength to not take a backwards step against men of that size meant his confidence rose exponentially.

"It proved to myself that I belonged here," he said.

Tuipulotu said his gains in pre-season training set the foundation for his form. His performances caught the eye of the coaches early on as he set personal bests in the gym and elsewhere, and he said he was looking forward to building on that work.

However, after his two substitution appearances for the All Blacks in the final two tests against England, Tuipulotu should expect to be involved in the Rugby Championship and beyond, especially with Luke Romano not likely to be in the frame until the end-of-year tour at the earliest because of his broken ankle. Tuipulotu's bulk and willingness to clatter into well-set defences makes him a high-value impact player.

One Blues player who has only pre-season training to look forward to is captain Luke Braid -- the openside flanker due to have a shoulder operation today which will rule him out of the game for the rest of the year.

It is a sad way to end the season for Braid, a consistently high-class performer despite carrying a rotator cuff problem for most of the year.

Prop Tony Woodcock has also been ruled out of tomorrow's match against the Chiefs at Eden Park because of a shoulder injury, though his is probably just a one-week lay-off.

Sam Prattley will replace Woodcock at loosehead, while Brendon O'Connor comes in for Braid.

- NZ Herald

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