OPINION: These are tough times for Steven Luatua with the Blues loose forward one of those extended All Blacks squad members sweating on the looming cut to 31 for the series against England. People are asking: has time run out for Luatua? If he can't start for the Blues, and his coaches have been pretty clear on his shortcomings, how can he hope to be part of Steve Hansen's squad to face the English?
I guess the extension of that is: how damaging would it be if he didn't get selected?
Remember this young man was one of the finds of last season. He was very impressive in almost everything he did in the black jersey, including a stint deputising for Liam Messam in the Rugby Championship.
But, really, if Jerome Kaino had been around last year, would he have even got picked?
There is an embarrassment of riches in New Zealand's loose forward stock, and Luatua's situation is salutary. Other players can start playing better, and there is no given right to an All Black jersey. It's actually a positive thing.
But there's no way anyone should write this young man off. It just illustrates how well some guys are playing, and maybe that they're looking pretty closely at their options at No 8.
Knowing Luatua and his character, he will take all of the advice on board and turn it round very quickly. The Kaino return has unfolded right in front of him and can't have been easy to deal with. What we shouldn't forget is Luatua's versatility, which was a big part of what made him so great last year. He covers lock, and he's pretty dynamic round the field. He just needs to up his workrate a little.
- Who steps in for Kieran Read at No 8 if he's not right? I see it as a straight choice between Kaino and Victor Vito, with the former having the inside running. Kaino off the back would do the job nicely. He's not a Read in open play, and not a Vito at lineout, but his experience, physicality and solidity would see him step in capably.
Almost the forgotten man in the loose forward mix is Messam who's entitled to feel aggrieved about that.
He made the No 6 jersey his own last season, yet there's a perception that Kaino will reclaim that spot.
I'm not sure it's anywhere near that clear cut.
- Irrespective of the result in Dunedin last night, it was a huge call by Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to drop his entire front row - all past or present All Blacks. It was a risk he was willing to take, but you wonder if these are unsettled times in Crusader-land when you factor in Zac Guildford's mid-season release. If this was a reaction to their defeat to the competition leaders, then maybe there's some insecurity there we don't normally see out of this franchise.
Or was it a stand against the mid-year training camps? If so it seemed harsh to isolate the boys in the front row.
- I wasn't surprised to hear Steve Tew had no luck getting the Northern Hemisphere to buy into shifting the June test window to July.
No one in the Northern Hemisphere wants us to get any better, because if we get better they're in real trouble. I'd equate it to this: does world football want to make Brazil stronger?
Think about this. The All Blacks go unbeaten last year on their tour, as do South Africa, and Australia lose one. The north simply doesn't want the south getting any stronger than we already are.
- The Sharks took a firm grip on this competition in Albany on Friday night because of their defence. All the great teams have a great defence because it's the easiest way to turn pressure into points. You make fewer decisions on defence and just have to stick to your system.
The Sharks are very good at that, and are so physical and relentless with it.
The key is they spend two at the breakdown, where their opponents spend four.
A great tour now puts the Sharks in the box seat and it's hard to see them being beaten if they secure home advantage for the finals.
The Blues now need a miracle finish.
They were good on Friday night -- just not good enough. The interesting thing is do they start Ihaia West now at No 10? He looked good when he came on.
- Sunday Star Times
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?