Super Rugby: Steven Luatua is back to his best

By Campbell Burnes

Steven Luatua beat five defenders against the Brumbies, the most of any New Zealand forward on an all-conquering weekend. Photo / Getty
Steven Luatua beat five defenders against the Brumbies, the most of any New Zealand forward on an all-conquering weekend. Photo / Getty

Steven Luatua may well have thrust his name before the All Blacks selectors again in the last two Super Rugby rounds.

The 25-year-old Blues forward, who has operated mainly at No 8 for the franchise this season, has cranked his form up several notches in the loss to the Hurricanes and the rousing win over the Brumbies.

The sight of Luatua, along with his loose forward Jerome Kaino, galloping around like spring chickens in the last two rounds has not only been heart-warming to his fans, it has also sparked much of the Blues' offence, which is now firing on all cylinders, even without the penetrative George Moala.

Luatua beat five defenders against the Brumbies, the most of any New Zealand forward on an all-conquering weekend, barring the Chiefs' Tom Sanders. He also made three offloads, which are a central cog in the Blues' continuity game.

His 125 competition carries puts him at 12th equal overall, the best of the Blues, and is similar to the numbers put up by the likes of noted carriers Schalk Burger and Sean McMahon. But, importantly, many of them have been telling carries over the gain line.

Luatua's 16 competition offloads place him 16th overall, third at the Blues, and is one ahead of the Crusaders' Jordan Taufua.

Luatua brings a high tackle effectiveness and of course is a strong lineout option, though strangely he only averages a tick over two takes per game.

Player stats Via Rugby Herald Stats Centre

Prior to the June window, he was solid, if unspectacular, for the Blues, perhaps feeling his way into an unaccustomed role off the back of the scrum. Some pundits felt Jerome Kaino, who has played for the All Blacks at No 8, should have suited up there, with Luatua in his usual No 6 position and offering cover at lock.

But he has racked up over 1000 minutes, appearing in all 14 Blues' outings. His combination with Kaino is working well, and his strong ball carrying and lineout ability is complementing the speed and high work-rates of opensides Kara Pryor and Blake Gibson.

It was strange to see no ripples of dissent over the non-selection of Luatua for the Wales series, especially as he can cover four positions, including both second row jerseys. That would make him ideal in a squad situation. But his Blues teammate Patrick Tuipulotu has not been the dominant force many believe he can be, and appeals as a lock who could play blindside only at a pinch. The only other top player in the country who fits the Luatua mould - a versatile, lineout-winning, ball-carrying, loose forward equally at home in the second row - is Hurricane Blade Thomson. But he has not really advanced his cause in 2016 and has now dropped out of the reckoning after shoulder surgery last week.

The Highlanders' duo of Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire deserved their June selection, but no one would claim they could do an effective job at lock in a big Rugby Championship game.

On that basis, you would think the All Blacks selectors must have Luatua in their sights. However, he will only get one more prominent chance to impress - this Friday night against the Waratahs - before his Super Rugby season grinds to a halt.

Then there may be another chance to pull on the navy blue of his beloved University club in Auckland, perhaps in the July 30 second tier Portola Trophy final in which the club should feature.

If he misses the All Blacks' Rugby Championship cut, so be it, but he has given himself every chance to add to his 14 tests, the last of which was in that very competition two years ago.

- NZ Herald

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