All Blacks coach Steve Hansen laments loss as Steven Luatua signs for Bristol
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has expressed disappointment that he was not able to speak with Steven Luatua before the Blues loose forward decided to ink a two-year deal with English club Bristol at the end of this season.
Bristol, the relegation-threatened outfit, confirmed Luatua would join them after seeing out the 2017 campaign with the Blues. He will be available for the British and Irish Lions series, but may now be on the outer if Hansen deems others to be ahead of him in the pecking order.
The 25-year-old has played 15 tests for the All Blacks since 2013, but struggled to become a regular fixture in Hansen's squad in recent times. He won his place back for last November's northern tour where he played against Italy in Rome.
Hansen was frustrated he didn't get the chance to discuss the future with Luatua, who joins a stable that includes Frank Halai, Francis Saili, Charles Piutau and Aaron Cruden to recently chase offshore riches in favour of potential national selection.
"It's always disappointing when you lose a good player, regardless of who he is. In this case it's double disappointing because of the lack of communication," Hansen said. "It wasn't as if we were able to engage in the process.
"Some agents once they get an offer they'll come to the table and negotiate; others don't. Steven's crew didn't want to talk because they are fearful we are going to change these guys minds which is disappointing.
"He spoke briefly to the contracts team, and he's been tapped on the shoulder by Pat Lam which is disappointing too. If you're an ex-New Zealander you should be a bit mindful about players' careers. But when they decide to go you've got to support them. Steven has made that decision so we'll do that."
Luatua, who has a young daughter, told 1News he had informed Blues coach Tana Umaga, and senior Blues players. The chance to support his family, and Sione Lauaki's death, were big factors in his decision.
"Where my family are at at the moment.. obviously there is financial pull from overseas but I can help them out a lot more than I am at the moment and that's kind of why I got into this from the start you know, to take care of the family, " he said.
"It's been an eye opener especially with Sione's passing in this last week at age 35. It just goes to show that we only get one shot at this and if I can set up the next generation of Luatua's to have better opportunities than I did, then I'm going to do that.
"If I stayed in New Zealand I would have no regrets. I would have been able to live a comfortable life but I'm not too sure if my family could have so the big pull was for the family."
All Blacks skipper Kieran Read echoed Hansen's thoughts, conceding at the Super Rugby season launch in Auckland he was surprised to hear earlier that day about Luatua's decision.
Coming swiftly after notable wins in the re-signing of Ben Smith and Israel Dagg in the face of massive French offers, Read said it was always tough to see the depth at the top end of the game eroded.
"I was disappointed," said the All Blacks skipper who is aiming for a mid-April return to Super Rugby after wrist surgery. "I saw him as a guy who made some great strides last year, and someone who really could have an impact on New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks.
"It's a bit sad to lose a guy like this, but it's an individual thing. It is tempting and you can't begrudge anyone if they want to go down that route."
Luatua's Blues co captain James Parsons had similar sentiments.
"He's a talented player but also a very good leader of our younger players," Parsons said. "It happens a lot in New Zealand rugby but the beauty of the game we have here is someone normally steps up and takes the place once someone leaves.
"It is a big loss, you can't hide from that, but there's always room for someone else to step up and take that role."
Former Blues coach Lam takes over Bristol, who have won two of their 14 games this season and are five points adrift of Worcester at the bottom of the table in the English Premiership, next season.
"Steven has a young child and also he's always had a great relationship with Pat," added Parsons. "I can't put words in his mouth but it's obviously a decision for financial security and a new challenge. The reality is some people find Super Rugby same old, same old. But who is to say he won't be back? I don't think it's the end of Steven Luatua."
Luatua will join former New Zealand-based players Jason Woodward, Alapati Leiua, Tusi Pisi and Siale Piutau at Bristol.