When All Black enforcer Jerome Kaino left the Blues at the end of last year to play rugby in Japan, his void appeared impossible to fill.
An 85 match veteran for the Blues over nine years and the most devastating number six in world rugby, Kaino was irreplaceable.
They are certainly huge boots to fill, but so far his young understudy Steven Luatua is making a great fist of it and has stepped up to the mark incredibly this season.
After earning four caps as injury cover in a disastrous campaign last year, Luatua has been an integral part of the Blues’ success this season as he continues to improve with each performance.
A strong and powerful runner with the ball in hand, a solid defender and a hard grafter, Luatua said he absorbed so much advice from Kaino and credited him for the big strides he has taken in his game.
“I learned so much from Jerome, just the way he played and the way he carried himself,” Luatua said.
“In my first few games last year the advice he gave me was just to focus on carrying strong and tackling hard, and in those important moments when things are going rough, particularly last year, it really helped.”
A former New Zealand Secondary Schools and Under-20 representative, the drums are now beating for Luatua to push on to higher honours with the All Blacks.
However the incredibly modest 21-year-old brushed aside those suggestions and insisted his only focus was on playing well for the Blues, personifying the team’s mantra ‘better never stops’.
“I just want to go out there and play six for the Blues,” he said. “That’s my job right now and to retain that jersey for next week as well but it’s about doing the business on the weekend first so I’ll just focus on that.
“I’m OK with the way I’m tracking right now but I don’t want to be just OK, I want to be great. There’s still plenty of room for improvement and I’m looking to push on from there, not rest on my laurels and try to keep getting better.”
Luatua faces one of the toughest challenges of the season on Saturday night against an impressive Hurricanes loose forward trio featuring Ardie Savea, Faifili Levave and Brad Shields.