Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Steven Luatua on leaving NZ Rugby - 'I've made right decision'

Steven Luatua leads the Blues onto the pitch before a Super Rugby game last season. Photo / Getty
Steven Luatua leads the Blues onto the pitch before a Super Rugby game last season. Photo / Getty

Steven Luatua has no regrets about signing a two-year deal with Bristol, saying although it wasn't an easy decision, the opportunity to secure his family's financial future was too good to pass up.

The All Blacks and Blues loose forward, who will link up with former Blues coach Pat Lam in the west of England after this Super Rugby season, told the Herald the money Bristol were offering was "night and day" compared with what New Zealand Rugby had tabled.

"The offer they [NZ Rugby] gave me in comparison to what I will get is night and day and that was a big factor in me deciding to leave," Luatua said today.

The decision by the 25-year-old, who has played 15 tests, has been described as disappointing by All Blacks captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen who have spoken of a young man in the prime of his life and just beginning to reach his playing potential.

And while Luatua is flattered by those comments and the wider reaction of New Zealand's rugby-supporting public, he said his decision involved more than just himself.

"It's been on the table for the best part of a couple of months," he said. "A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of U-turns here and there but I'm glad in the end I made the best decision for me and my family."

Asked about his reaction to those who say he's leaving too soon, Luatua said: "I can understand that and I appreciate that. In a sense I think that's a bit of a compliment, people wanting me to stay and thinking I haven't reached my full potential here [and that I] could do more for New Zealand Rugby. But ... it's a good opportunity and a good fit. I think Bristol is a great city and I'm fortunate to have a head coach that I guess will understand me and my goals and aspirations over there.

"At the same time I can secure the future for my family. That's a big pull, to give back. My family don't expect much. They know I do what I do and that I give back when I can, but in this way I can actually make a difference."

The tall flanker or No8, who adds depth to any squad for his ability to play lock, is the youngest of five children, and said the ability to give back played a big part in his decision.

"As I have got older I've come to realise it wasn't just mum and dad that made a lot of sacrifices," he said.

"It was my siblings as well, they got the short stick here and there. I grew up with my mum and dad not favouring me, but ... 'here, let's take Steven to this and that'. Now that I'm older I can see that and they've been a big part of that."

Luatua also has a young daughter with his partner.

Hansen has said in an interview that Luatua's representatives didn't communicate with New Zealand Rugby's contracts team as well as they could have, but Luatua said: "as far as I'm aware everything was on the table. They were aware of my situation.

"I feel like my team communicated that aspect. Whether or not that got to the higher ups I don't know. But my understanding is that New Zealand Rugby were aware of the other offers."

Luatua, who has played 63 matches for the Blues, said he wanted to return to the franchise and potentially the All Blacks after his travels. "One of my goals is to try to clock up 100 games for the Blues so somewhere along the line I'll look to head back... whether or not they'll have me that's a different story so we'll see how that goes."

- NZ Herald

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