Patrick Tuipulotu has used his five weeks on the sidelines with a back injury to reflect on his below-par recent form and insists he will be far better for his time off.
The Blues lock, named to start against the Cheetahs at Eden Park on Friday, had hit a slump leading up to his injury - a disc bulge suffered during training after his team's error-ridden round six victory against the Force. An indication that something wasn't quite right in that match could be seen in his defence statistics - the normally busy player made only three tackles and missed three.
Tuipulotu's form issues came on top of his drugs test drama which had put his whole season in doubt before he was finally cleared, all of which means he has ridden a rollercoaster of emotions this year.
"During that time I wasn't playing well - that was tough [mentally]. During the time off I had a good look and reflected, really. Coming into this week I wasn't sure whether I would get picked or not but I knew I had my body right and was ready for selection. To get the chance now, I'm just relishing it."
Given his time off and lack of match fitness - he missed the defeats by the Highlanders and Hurricanes and away victories against the Brumbies and Waratahs - he is unlikely to last much past halftime against the Cheetahs but running out on the field for the first whistle will be small victory in itself.
A cortisone injection has helped ease the pain, but the problem is something he will have to manage for the rest of his playing career.
The 24-year-old Tuipulotu, who has played 12 tests for the All Blacks, has probably lost ground to Crusaders Scott Barrett and Luke Romano for the role of support act to Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, but he knows well that injuries leading up to the British and Irish Lions tour could provide opportunities.
For the Blues, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Scott Scrafton have taken their chances well, with the former named on the reserves bench due to a heavy recent workload.
All Blacks coaches Ian Foster, Wayne Smith and Mike Cron attended Blues training today and Tuipulotu said he had spoken to them but seemed unsure of his immediate future at the top level.
"How many weeks have I got now [before All Blacks squad is named]? Three? It's a hard one. There are other locks who have been playing a lot better than I have. Whatever happens, happens - injuries will help determine selections... but I'm hoping I can still prove myself over the next couple of weeks.
For Blues coach Tana Umaga, Tuipulotu's return is timely. "We've got a few tired bodies," he said. "We're pretty battered. We've had to make some selections based on that but also give some opportunities to guys who have been training really well and waiting in line."
One of those is Declan O'Donnell, back from injury and starting on the right wing, with Matt Duffie, who has started all 10 matches this season, given a break. Melani Nanai has moved to fullback, with Michael Collins who has also started every match, named on the bench.
After rare back-to-back away victories, the Blues are clinging to the final play-off position but know that they have to win the rest of their five round-robin games in order to stay in control of their own destiny. "It's a pretty simple equation for us," Umaga said. "We've got to keep going."
Sonny Bill Williams is unavailable due to concussion but Umaga was confident Williams would be available for team's trip to Cape Town to play the Stormers next week.
Blues team to play Cheetahs at Eden Park on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm is: Melani Nanai, Declan O'Donnell, George Moala, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Piers Francis, Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu.
Reserves: Hame Faiva, Alex Hodgman, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Kara Pryor, Sam Nock, Ihaia West, Michael Collins.