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Isaia Toeava is better known to his mates as Ice. It's a play on his name rather than a representation of any character trait.

Poor, old Ice, who was denied the time and space afforded to his peers. Instead of easing himself into his professional career, at 19 he was having to explain to a nation why he was making his All Blacks debut before he'd featured in Super 14.

Actually, he wasn't the one doing most of the talking. It was the All Blacks coaches. They saw Toeava at the 2005 Under-19 World Cup and decided they had an international superstar in their midst.

They didn't mean to saddle the 19-year-old Toeava with the intolerable burden of expectation but that was the inevitable consequence.

When you then throw him the No 15 All Blacks jersey on the back of just one start for Auckland in the NPC, people get curious.

Explanations had to be provided to support what was a phenomenal risk and, in an instant, Toeava was under pressure he should never have faced.

Looking back, Blues assistant Shane Howarth feels he was as culpable as everyone else.

"I was one of those guys who put too much pressure on Ice. The pressure went on him very early and that probably hit him hard," says Howarth. "The spotlight went on him and, fans being fans and media being media, the pressure just grew and grew. We should have known better and have got to remember to step back and take some acid off these kids."

Howarth can speak honestly now because Toeava, four years after he was hailed as the next superstar, is pretty close to being the next superstar.

There is vindication for the All Blacks coaches. They were right in their judgement of Toeava, they just got the timing wrong. He is now the player they thought he was going to be.

The 23-year-old has been one of the only bright lights in a dim Blues campaign. There's been a different cut to his jib this year.

His hands used to have a personality of their own. Now they are Volkswagen-reliable.

The pace that used to be glimpsed in little flashes is now on permanent display. Against the Hurricanes, he embarrassed Ma'a Nonu with his acceleration and ability to step while making his way towards full speed. Toeava cut in, drifted out and then threw the perfect pass to Rene Ranger.

Ah, yes, his passing - head coach Pat Lam went as far to suggest earlier in the season that Toeava was the best passer in world rugby. Another giant claim, yet one that wasn't met with such scepticism. It's not something for which there is objective measurement.

Subjectively, though, there would be support for Lam's belief. Toeava throws a beautiful pass. He times it sweetly, too, and while he might not be super keen on wearing the No 12 jersey, his presence there suits the Blues. His innate timing and accuracy of pass puts the outside runners into space, while his own direct thrusts have been about the only go-forward the Blues have enjoyed.

But Toeava would rather be on the end of wide passes. His preference is fullback, or centre if he has to.

Howarth agrees. It's as a runner that Toeava impresses the most. With a bit of space, he has shown himself to be deadly this season.

"I think if you asked Ice, he would still say he prefers fullback," says Howarth. "I think that is his best position, too, but there is a player who is not bad ahead of him [in the All Blacks in Mils Muliaina].

"He has to be patient. And when he sets his mind, we need to give him time in that position.

"Ice in 2009 is a totally different beast, both physically and mentally, to how he was in 2005. He doesn't say a lot.

"He's a shy guy, that's his way, but on the field, he barks the orders. Off the field, he's working really hard at improving himself."

Time is the commodity Toeava has previously been denied, which is why the Blues, and no doubt the All Blacks, too, are going to be more than generous with him now. What they have is one of the world's best utility backs.

Utility is the title given to players who have tidy generic skills but are not good enough to merit an international jersey.

Toeava could play a test at second five and has already played at centre, wing and fullback. He is international class. He is a true utility.

But no one wants to fulfil that role for long. He'll take it for now, as it means he will almost certainly be named in the 26-man All Black squad after the Super 14 final.

At some stage, he'd like a crack at nudging ahead of Muliaina. He deserves that opportunity.