Steven Luatua responds to coach's wake-up call
Recalled flanker Steven Luatua has responded to coach Steve Hansen's "wake-up call" by winning back his place in the All Blacks squad.
Luatua had an impressive rookie season for the All Blacks last year, when he made 11 test appearances, but he reported back for Super Rugby duty in less than tip-top shape.
He was dropped for the All Blacks' three-test series against England in June and given a blunt message to improve his fitness.
But the Blues backrower has been given a reprieve after being named for the Rugby Championship squad as a replacement for Wellington backrower Victor Vito, who is out with a bulging disc in his neck.
Hansen said Luatua had come back "a different athlete".
"It's a fitness thing that's changed, I guess that's set by his attitude," Hansen said.
Asked how fit Luatua was, Hansen said: "Fitter than you and me.
"He's improved immensely in his aerobic area to the point where we are happy to select him. He's back where he should be."
Luatua, by his own admission, had fronted for the Super competition "not as well as should be, and he paid the price for that", Hansen said.
"If you care enough about the jersey, and most people who have been in there do, then it is a wake-up call. But it's one that a lot of athletes have had."
Jerome Kaino had faced a similar situation in 2004 when the All Blacks "took him to the UK and he wasn't ready, he wasn't fit enough", Hansen said.
"He spent some time on the sideline, but he came back and became the best No 6 in world rugby.
"I think Steven's got that ability as well. He can come back and be a very good athlete, and a very good All Black."
The All Blacks were hopeful Vito's injury would settle down with a few weeks' rest and were confident Crusaders lock Luke Romano was also on track to return later this season after breaking his lower leg in May, Hansen said.