Steven Luatua has put his hand up for All Blacks selection against the Lions.
The chances are he will get the nod, but that was not always the case.
Winding back the clock, the date is 24th November 2013, and the All Blacks have somehow managed to beat Ireland. The story is about Ryan Crotty and Aaron Cruden. To some extent, it is about Jonny Sexton, waterboy Liam Messam and the All Blacks’ composure. Buried away in a subplot is Steven Luatua. What a season he has had! A breakthrough season where he has stepped up and produced standout performance after standout performance. The Black jersey is his to lose; a long and illustrious career beckons.
Fast forward one year, and he is on the outer. Fitness is failing, performances are dropping away, and then the inevitable chop. From an almost ever present in 2013 to a bit part shadow of himself in 2014. The world of professional rugby is a hard one. Unforgiving in the extreme.
It must have been painful watching the lads out there in 2015, but to his credit he kept on keeping on. Perseverance, a lot of dark places and then redemption at the end of 2016. Selected once again for an All Blacks end of year tour. In fairness, he missed the big games, but it matters not, he was back in the fold, close to the decision makers.
Immeasurable amounts of work must have gone in to get Luatua back in the All Blacks frame.
With the progress made and the comeback verging on complete, 2017 was going to be a huge year in the Black jersey for Luatua. Or at least that is how we all saw it from the sidelines.
February 2017 rolled around, and the news coming out of the Blues camp was that Luatua was off to Bristol. The money in the north is significant, of that there is no doubt. But so is the once in a lifetime opportunity to face the Lions in the Black jersey. Did this come into his mind when making the decision? Surely it did.
Yet 2017 has taken yet another curious twist, certainly if you are Steven Luatua.
For all money, Luatua was out of the running to take on the Lions for the All Blacks after his decision to head north. But it’s been a strange old year with injuries that have beset some senior, well-established All Blacks. Throw into the mix Luatua’s form and it might just be that he is the saviour of the back row. Unimaginable only four months ago.
Kaino and Read are short of match practice and, although they will be keeping fit, there is nothing quite like a proper hit out.
Can the All Blacks afford to go into the First Test with two undercooked loosies? Has Luatua done enough to turn the heads of the selectors so they can forget about the jaunt to the north for a few weeks?
All will be revealed tomorrow, but for now are we looking at tonight’s Blues game as a final trial for Luatua?
Have the selectors already put their team down on paper or is there one space left with Steven Luatua’s name pencilled in on it?
Luatua will be aware and I would expect nothing short of the best game of his life tonight. He will want to leave New Zealand on a positive note with the crowd wanting more. If Luatua performs anywhere near his best the Lions will be in trouble, such is the impact of this man.
From The Shed
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Author: Steven Prescott
I am a total sports fanatic; it is as simple as that. I love all sports, and when I’m not sitting at my computer living my dream with The 1014, I am planning adventures. The last time I did this I ended up convincing my wife to cycle 26,125km across three continents, and 22 countries with me as part of the Pedalling Prescotts.