Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Luatua hopeful of ABs call-up, mindful of Read

Steven Luatua of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Steven Luatua of the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

Steven Luatua has good reason to feel a little nervous ahead of tomorrow's All Blacks announcement.

The Blues loose forward, who played the last of his 14 tests for the All Blacks at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, in October 2014, has lacked form of late but not injury problems.

However, having started all 11 Blues matches this season under coach Tana Umaga, Luatua may be allowing himself to dream of a return.

If he is, he is keeping it to himself. For now, he can be reassured he has done just about everything he can, although lock Sam Whitelock's hamstring injury and Luatua's ability to play in the second row may have forced the door slightly more ajar.

"Whatever happens on Sunday happens," he said. "The boys that make the squad deserve it. First things first, I've got a job to do against the Crusaders and whoever deserves to be there will be there."

Tonight's match against the Crusaders at Eden Park will give a good indication of both where the Blues are at and where Luatua is.

The Blues are all but out of playoff contention, the Crusaders very much in it, and while Umaga's men have picked up two wins on the road so far after failing to win anything away last season, the defeat to the Lions in Johannesburg a fortnight ago marked a low point in their season.

Adding a little bit extra is the fact that Luatua is marking All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

"Apart from the Lions game, I've walked off every game with my head held high," Luatua said. "I've done my job for the team. I'm proud of that.

"It's going to be a tough one against the Crusaders, but I'm excited by the challenge. Growing up as a kid, this was the game to get excited about.

"Usually we play them early in the season at Eden Park - it will be telling in terms of how we're tracking as a team. I'm looking forward to getting into it."

Umaga is pleased with the 25-year-old's consistency, saying: "We told him he was going to be No8 from the start. We've got what we believe is the world's best No6 playing for us [Jerome Kaino] ... and I think he's taken his chance.

"He's been learning the role along the way and has all the attributes to do it. He's been consistent. His body has held up. He came off a long injury layoff last year and he has leadership too.

"He's grown from week to week and it will be a good test this week against the All Black captain and probably the world's best No8, and a loose forward trio playing really well."

The need to stay focused will be paramount for the Blues against the Crusaders, who have shown a willingness to start matches this season with their own version of shock and awe tactics.

"At the weekend, we put in a good performance in the first half to go up 17-3 against the Force, but we went through a massive lull in the second half. We have to be able to bounce back from those lulls better," Luatua said.

Asked how he was feeling at the end when the Blues were defending their line with 14 men and prop Nic Mayhew in the sinbin, he said: "It was similar against the Hurricanes [at Eden Park this season] when it could have gone our way when we were on their tryline at the end. The chat was 'this is why we play - for the big moments'."

He added: "I'm stoked to be in this position. No major injuries - that's a good thing so far. The shoulder is holding up after last year's surgery.

"This time last year, I was coming off the bench. I was in and out of the squad.

"Hopefully I can keeping doing the job. It's pretty simple; set piece, make tackles. It's a simple game, keep it simple."

- NZ Herald

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