Steven Luatua is picking a good time to hit consistent and compelling form for the Blues.

The Blues loose forward's decision to leave for Bristol at the end of the season could have counted against his chances to make the All Blacks squad to play the British and Irish Lions in June and July, but his recent performances, including during the Blues' 18-12 victory over the Brumbies yesterday, combined with the injuries to Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino, means he must be fully in the frame now.

Luatua has been guilty of drifting during matches - a couple of years ago he underwent a crash fitness regime after the All Blacks management decided he wasn't fit enough - but in Canberra his workrate was exceptional. At 1.94m, he is a talented lineout operator, but now he is also making meaningful contributions all over the field, just as he did when first selected for the All Blacks in 2013.

All Blacks skipper Read, who broke a thumb in the Crusaders' victory over the Cheetahs and has undergone successful surgery in South Africa, is likely to be back on the field in six weeks' time. The All Blacks first test against the Lions is at Eden Park is in eight weeks on June 24.


Blues' co-captain Kaino has had surgery on a knee injury and is due back in between four and six weeks' time, leaving a real opportunity for Luatua to add to his tally of 15 tests before he heads offshore.

Luatua's Blues' loose forward colleague Akira Ioane is also playing closer to his potential after a slow start to the season. Ioane was penalised several times during his team's precious bonus point victory at GIO Stadium, but much of that was due to his over-eagerness at the breakdown.

The 21-year-old is likely to be in the frame for the New Zealand Maori for what will be considered the unofficial fourth test against the Lions in Rotorua on June 17 but could also push for higher honours, particularly if there are any more injuries to the leading loose forward contenders.

Blues coach Tana Umaga was relatively content after his team's latest match - a rarity this season. He watched as his side for once made the most of their limited opportunities against a team who had tightened up defensively following their thrashing at the hands of the Hurricanes.

Noticeable during the match was the way Luatua, who was wearing the No6 jersey, and No8 Ioane swapped between blindside flanker and No8 when packing down for scrums, and Umaga said he was comfortable with the arrangement.

"I leave that to Steven and Akira to sort out themselves - whether it's 8 or 6, they both can play move around those two positions," Umaga said. "We saw a lot of Steven at No8... as long as they talk about it among themselves we're happy to let them play in either position."

The Blues have travelled straight to Sydney for their match against the Waratahs on Saturday, and the attacking imperative will remain. The believe they can make the playoffs if they score bonus point victories in each of their remaining six matches.

"That's the challenge that we've given ourselves. That's what we need to do if we want to play longer in the season.

"We're very happy with the effort and the commitment to what we're trying to achieve; probably not that last 10 seconds when we turned the ball over, but we came back from that I think we've developed over our time here - that resilience for our boys to hang in there and keep fighting."