Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

Rugby: Luatua makes the most of dismal season

Steven Luatua has been named at No 6 in the Blues starting lineup to face the Chiefs on Saturday night. Photo / Andrew Cornaga.
Steven Luatua has been named at No 6 in the Blues starting lineup to face the Chiefs on Saturday night. Photo / Andrew Cornaga.

If there is one member of the Blues camp who has benefited from their horror 2012 campaign it is powerful 21-year-old flanker Steven Luatua.

Luatua has been named at No 6 in the Blues starting lineup to face the Chiefs on Saturday night and it will be his fourth cap for the side since making his debut against the Lions at the start of this month.

The 6'5, New Zealand U-20 World Cup winner was always destined for higher honours, but no one could have predicted the rapid rise and elevation that has seen him become a regular, important member of the Blues starting lineup.

Unfortunately his rise has correlated with the worst start to a Super Rugby season in Blues' history.

Two wins from 13 games and injuries to forwards Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Anthony Boric, Chris Lowrey and Brad Mika has opened the door for the former Mount Albert Grammar student to step out of the wider training group and into the most talked about team in New Zealand rugby.

"If you had asked me back at Christmas time, I wouldn't have even been considering the position I'm in now," said Luatua.

"I was dreaming of one cap, but here I am starting in my fourth game, I'm over the moon, it's a dream come true."

Luatua has impressed in his appearances - playing in a revised flanker role which he is likely to continue for Auckland in the ITM Cup.

"Flanker is my preferred position. I have had a lot of discussions about playing lock and if you put me there I will do the job, but I definitely prefer the flanker position.

Luatua was playing club footy for Auckland University last season and said the transition to Super Rugby has been made easier by the experienced squad members he can learn from.

"In the beginning of the season I was looking up to Jerome Kaino - he's someone I aspire to be like with his physical, go forward style. Right now I'm learning a lot off Ali (Williams) with my lineout jumps. I ask a lot of questions and the boys are always keen to help out - for me it's been great."

The 115kg loose-forward said the key to beating the Chiefs this weekend was to produce a more 'full' performance.

"We need to play for 80 minutes. In the last few games we've had some good phases but we've only played well in patches of 10 or 20 minutes. If we do that I think we can put away some good teams."

The Blues have made six changes to the side that lost 27-20 to the Highlanders last weekend including the reinstatement of All Blacks Ali Williams and Ma'a Nonu to the starting lineup.

Piri Weepu remains on the bench with Michael Hobbs replacing the injured Gareth Anscombe at first five while Rudi Wulf is at fullback, for what will be his 50th game.

Blues: Tony Woodcock, James Parsons, Tevita Mailau, Liaki Moli, Ali Williams, Steven Luatua, Daniel Braid, Luke Braid (c), Alby Mathewson, Michael Hobbs, Rene Ranger, Ma'a Nonu, Francis Saili, Lachie Munro, Rudi Wulf.

Reserves: Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, Filo Paulo, Peter Saili, Piri Weepu, Hadleigh Parkes, David Raikuna.

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