Rugby: Steven Luatua puts himself back in All Blacks frame

By Campbell Burnes

Steven Luatua's combination with Jerome Kaino is working well and his strong ball carrying and lineout ability are assets. Photo / Getty Images
Steven Luatua's combination with Jerome Kaino is working well and his strong ball carrying and lineout ability are assets. Photo / Getty Images

Steven Luatua may 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 No8 for the franchise this season, has cranked up his form in the loss to the Hurricanes and the rousing win over the Brumbies last weekend.

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.

Some pundits felt Jerome Kaino, who has played for the All Blacks at No8, should have suited up there, with Luatua in his usual No6 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.

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 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 All Blacks selection against Wales 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 - on Friday night against the Waratahs - before his Super Rugby season comes 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 two years ago.

- NZ Herald

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