Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has offered a blunt assessment of Cullen Grace as the one-test All Black struggles to back up a breakthrough 2020 season.
Grace, who was the youngest player named in any New Zealand Super Rugby squad last year, has earned a start against the Blues in Christchurch on Sunday, after being rested last weekend.
However, when asked whether Grace was at the level he expected, Robertson struggled to find the right words at first.
Although pleased with the 21-year old's ability to nail the basics, Robertson admitted he wanted to see more.
"He's a real physical player, has an incredible shoulder on him, incredible ability to anticipate play, but probably just hasn't quite got the opportunities he has years before," Robertson said. "The tightness of games, he's made a lot of tackles, he's had a couple of niggles that have come right.
"We're looking for more from him. The surprise package has gone, as you have in the first year. He's not far away, he's doing all the simple things really well, he just hasn't got those opportunities to make a big play and get in the newspapers.
"The variables of the weather, who you're playing, the way their nine defends, all those things come into play but he is learning his craft and getting better at it, it's just game time for him."
Grace will start alongside a rejigged forward pack featuring Sam Whitelock, who was also rested in the Crusaders' loss to the Chiefs last weekend, and Codie Taylor.
Skipper Scott Barrett is back to lock, after starting at blindside last week, with Sione Havili Talitui returning to start at openside while the backline is unchanged.
First-five Richie Mo'unga said it was crucial they returned to form after struggling in recent weeks.
"We need to get the jobs done and get some rhythm as well," He said. "I think it's really important to play a standard of footy that we can be proud of and a full complete 80 minutes where we're accurate.
"For us it's not about going back into our shells, we've still got to back ourselves and back that offload when we see it or pull trigger when we do see the time to, but accuracy is a big one for me."
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga'anuku, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, George Bower.
Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Tamaiti Williams, Oliver Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Tom Sanders, Bryn Hall, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele.