Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Black jersey reward for standout performers

For the Blues' newcomers to the All Blacks squad, the timing could hardly have been better.

Yesterday's excitement at being officially welcomed into the All Blacks fold and being handed their kit complete with the silver fern - plus, most importantly, their initials - went some way to salving the hurt of the thrashing by the Highlanders in Dunedin the night before.

The addition of flanker Steven Luatua, midfielder Francis Saili and outside back Charles Piutau to the squad came after their excellent performances for the Blues this season. All three were standouts in their positions, in particular Luatua.

They are three of the six newcomers - the others are Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki, Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush and Crusaders flanker Matt Todd.

All three Blues players will have to be flexible. Luatua will cover lock in the absence of the injured Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird, Saili is looked at as a second-five or centre in a midfield light on cover, and Piutau, who has mainly played at fullback for the Blues, will cover wing.

Assistant coach Ian Foster said Piutau offered something different at fullback, Saili's selection was about development, and Luatua's was "a good reward for a great campaign".

The 22-year-old Luatua said of his inclusion: "There were mixed emotions coming off that paddock with my head down, and when the team got named my head was down again because I was a bit emotional and I didn't want the boys to see."

Saili, also 22, said simply making the two recent training camps was an experience in itself.

"For me to even be included in there was something else. To be among a group of boys I used to see on TV, especially those that won the World Cup, was awesome."

Piutau, 21, said of the possibility of his playing on the wing: "Growing up I played most of my rugby on the wing. It's fair to say I'm comfortable with the position. Nowadays the back three are similar in a lot of the skillsets and roles too."

- APNZ

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