Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Luatua to miss All Blacks cut

Slump in form and return of physical Kaino mean loose forward likely loser in selection battle.

Steve Hansen focused on improving Steven Luatua's fitness at the All Blacks' wider squad training camp in Christchurch which suggests he will remain in the frame for the future. Photo / Getty Images
Steve Hansen focused on improving Steven Luatua's fitness at the All Blacks' wider squad training camp in Christchurch which suggests he will remain in the frame for the future. Photo / Getty Images

Steven Luatua, a standout for the Blues last year but unable to break into the starting line-up this season, is set to miss the All Blacks cut when the final squad is named in Auckland tomorrow.

Luatua is likely to be the victim of a personal form slump and the return to New Zealand of Blues teammate Jerome Kaino, a player who is very close to his World Cup form of 2011. Kaino, who can also play blindside flanker and cover for Kieran Read at No 8, has brought a physicality that Luatua hasn't been able to match this season.

Luatua, 23, was an attractive proposition to the All Blacks selectors last year due to his ability to cover lock, but, provided there are no injuries during tonight's matches between the Chiefs and Waratahs at Yarrow Stadium and the Blues and Hurricanes at Eden Park, he isn't likely to add to his 11 caps in the three-test series against England.

He will remain in the All Blacks frame for the Rugby Championship and beyond - the work coach Steve Hansen and fitness trainer Nic Gill put into him at the recent Christchurch training camp attests to that.

Hansen said recently that Luatua's fitness was letting him down. "Steven's problem is that he's probably been a bit lax on the aerobic side of his game, so hence he's not doing enough when he's out on the park," he said. "He'll do something and then go missing for five or six minutes."

Apart from Kaino, back in the frame for the black jersey for the first time since he wore it in the World Cup final against France, the other big winner among the loose forwards will be Victor Vito, discarded after last year's June internationals but back now after excellent form for the Hurricanes.

Vito can play all three loose forward positions and Hansen is satisfied the 27-year-old has worked on becoming more physical and aggressive.

The selectors will include only two hookers - Dane Coles and Keven Mealamu - with Nathan Harris and Liam Coltman not quite up to the required speed. However, the two youngsters - Chief Harris is 22 and Highlander Coltman 24 - will remain in the frame. They will train with the All Blacks when they are based in Hamilton and Dunedin over the next few weeks.

As predicted, Crusaders loose forward Luke Whitelock and Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush will drop out after attending only one of the two recent training camps in Christchurch and Wellington.

The selectors have selected 17 forwards and 14 backs, with three halfbacks and three first-fives. Crusaders No 10 Colin Slade's inclusion is thanks partly to Blues fullback Charles Piutau's injury. Slade has been in good form for the Crusaders and can also play at fullback or even wing.

Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu will hope to earn his first cap against England - his excellent form in his first year at this level earning the 21-year-old a place among the chosen few.

- APNZ

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