Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Luatua gets the tick from Hansen

Remember the anxiety about who would wear the black No6 jersey in tests? The consternation was ascending.

Jerome Kaino was heading offshore, so too Adam Thomson, Victor Vito had yet to show the range of venom the All Blacks selectors wanted, although Liam Messam was bringing more to his game.

Then his hamstring got the gripes and Steven Luatua was told to kit up for his first start in Sydney. We liked what we saw, so did coach Steve Hansen, though he chided his man for walking too much during that test.

It had been a great first start though, thrust into the Bledisloe Cup with little warning and told to play his game. Second start at the Cake Tin and Luatua was much better prepared and the recipient of another tick from Hansen. "He was pretty good again wasn't he and that was the pleasing thing," Hansen said.

"There was less walking this week.

"I think he is used to that intensity and speed of the game and there were some nice carries as well which he did last week but it was just a continuation of what we had last week and I think even better.

"He looked more assured, he looked more comfortable being out there wearing that jersey, so it's been a good start from him and he should be pretty proud of himself."

Luatua with the abrasive Brad Shields poking his nose through the training camps and Luke Whitelock also being surveyed - suddenly the dearth is looking like some depth.

Messam may be fit again for the next test on his Hamilton patch against Argentina, which will leave the panel with a tough choice.

There is also some noise Kaino is keen to have a tilt at the 2015 World Cup and to do that will rejoin the Blues for next year's campaign.

Hansen acknowledged how injury has forced their hand but the panel was intent on developing the strength in the squad. "We have always set out to have enough depth in the group to cover the unexpected and we have an environment we have worked really hard on and that allows people to fit in easily," said Hansen.

Luatua admitted he felt far less anxious on Saturday than he had in Sydney.

"I was a lot more confident and had a lot more time to prepare. It was a special game, 100 games (for Tony Woodcock), and a while since I have won anything so it was pretty cool to win that," he said.

"I was slow to get into the game at the start," said Luatua, "Scott Fardy was having a blinder at the start so I just cleaned a few rucks and had a few carries."

He was not worried about making mistakes. Instead he had confidence to make passes stick and complete his tackles. He remembered Hansen's words about walking and had tried to boost his work rate.

- NZ Herald

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