Rugby: Steven Luatua makes All Blacks statement

By Gregor Paul in Rome

All Blacks No.8 Steven Luatua goes in for a try. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks No.8 Steven Luatua goes in for a try. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It wasn't emphatic but Steven Luatua made a statement at Stadio Olimpico that he is worth more investment by the All Blacks.

The final 15 minutes were a bit of a write off for him as he had to play through cramp, but in the previous 65 minutes he ticked enough boxes to retain his status as a player of interest.

His primary goal - as dictated by the coaching staff - was to crunch a few Italian bodies.

He was asked to buckle ball carriers that came his way and blow over the top when he was carrying.

What the coaching team wanted to see was a bit of old fashioned mongrel - a definitive sense of danger emanating from him in the same way opposition teams can read the signals that Jerome Kaino is best avoided.

They knew he could win lineout ball and he managed to provide reassurance that he still can.

They knew he was a good athlete - a point he reconfirmed when he was on hand to take Elliot Dixon's inside pass and score early in the second half.

What the coaches weren't so sure about was his capacity to intimidate - his ability to not just win the collisions, but dominate them. The physical battle remains at the heart of test football and being an inch in front of the gainline as opposed to an inch behind makes an enormous difference.

Italy didn't necessarily provide a relentless and genuinely intense physical threat but as much as he could, Lutaua looked to throw himself about and get involved.

His intent was obvious and often, that is more than half the battle. It was certainly enough to inspire head coach Steve Hansen to be moderately effusive in praise.

"He was very good I thought tonight until he started cramping up around the 65-minute mark and then he became a bit of a passenger but we didn't have anyone else to come on," said Hansen. "It was a big improvement from Steven and he just has to show us he can do that time after time."

It's possible Luatua will be seen again on this tour following his performance but he'll need to persuade Hansen that the late onset of cramp was more to do with lack of game time than any dietary failings as the coach suggested.

By full time Luatua was barely moving."First game back in a while, first game back in international footy and the body is hurting." he said.

As for whether he felt he fulfilled his specific brief of being overtly physical, he wasn't so sure.

"To be quite honest I wasn't thinking about that too much," he said. "If I try to focus on that too much then it takes me away from what I am good at. So I just tried to play to my strengths and obviously they wanted a bit more physicality and I tried when the opportunity came up on defence and when I carried, I tried to carry strong and be effective and get them going backwards.

"It definitely hit me when we were doing the anthems and the haka...all the pressure that comes with playing in the black jersey. I really embraced it and relished it. When I made by debut I had to pinch myself and remind myself that this is where I want to be. I was a lot more confident today. It was good fun. I was really excited."

- NZ Herald

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