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

Rugby: Luatua learns from drinking controversy

Life is, according to Steven Luatua, all about challenges, which is why he thinks some good can come from the recent negative headlines over his involvement in a drinking game on social media.

Footage of All Blacks loose forward Luatua pouring a bottle of beer down a friend's throat, an act apparently designed to persuade others to do the same, quickly found its way into the mainstream media where commentators were quick to judge the 22-year-old. After breaking into the All Blacks last year and attracting overwhelmingly positive publicity with his skill and power at blindside flanker, it was a lesson Luatua won't forget.

"Obviously it was a challenging time for myself," he said.

"That's what life is about, challenges, so definitely lessons were learned from that time and hopefully I can move on from it."

He added, however, that he was also heartened by the support he received.

"I'm quite fortunate to be in a strong environment. I got a lot of support from the Blues, from the coaches and also the Blues fans. They were behind me so I'm thankful to them."

Back in the Blues' fold fulltime yesterday after his breakout year with the All Blacks, in which he played 11 tests including two starts against Australia, Luatua is readying himself for a season in which he is hoping to take his game to the next level.

Playing alongside the returning Jerome Kaino, for the first time could help in this respect.

"Jerome has been the form No 6 (before leaving for Japan) ... he was definitely the guy I looked up to growing up.

"To be able to play alongside him, hopefully, it's pretty exciting.

"He defines what a forward is. He gets the team going forward on defence by smashing guys and he gets the team going forward on attack.

"Coming in today and seeing the boys, I'm definitely not in the shape I need to be; it's going to be a huge competition within the camp (for places) and that's what it should be, especially with Jerome coming back as well. I'm definitely looking to be better than I was last year."

Luatua's combination with Kaino - who is likely to play at No8 - and openside flanker Luke Braid, will be one of the potential strengths for the Blues, who will also boast an excellent front row including Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tom McCartney and Tony Woodcock, and a backline including the likes of Piri Weepu, Benji Marshall, Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Frank Halai.

They remain light at lock though, with a replacement for Culum Retallick, ruled out with a season-ending knee injury, not confirmed.

Luatua said he would be happy to play in the second row if required, saying he "wasn't afraid of hard work", the youngster getting a big taste of that in his last match - the All Blacks' 24-22 victory which broke Irish hearts in Dublin in November.

He said it was a test in which he learned never to take anything for granted - a good attitude given recent events.


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