Luatua keen to push on
Matt Manukia 10 Apr 2013 Getty Images
Every limb in his body stings from the build up of lactic acid. The thought of giving up grows in his mind.
He asks himself: 'Is this really what I want to do for a living?'
Driving to the stadium he now calls home, Blues flanker Steven Luatua remembers the decision he made on that mid-winter afternoon as a Mount Albert Grammar School pupil six years ago.
He thinks about how hard it was, but also the unmeasurable feeling of satisfaction when the whistle finally rang out and declared him an Auckland 1A champion.
It was the moment he realised he could achieve great things, if he was willing to put in the effort.
Having survived the clean-out at the Blues after last year's horror season, the hard work is starting to pay off for the 1.94m tower.
He is eight weeks into his breakout season under new coach Sir John Kirwan; talks of a call up to Steve Hansen's All Blacks are not thought of as too far fetched.
It's a prospect that excites the former New Zealand under-20 representative.
After all, he was destined for a very different future when he played at the Junior IRB tournament for Samoa in 2010.
"Last year my goal was just to get a cap and this year was to retain this number six jersey, so far so good but I don't want to stop there," Luatua told Sportal.
"I'm still looking for improvement and looking to push on."
Running effective lines and creating opportunities with crafty off-loads, Luatua has also proven an ability to impose himself physically on defence.
Ahead of this week's clash with the Hurricanes at Eden Park, he is preparing for a crucial battle with All Blacks blindside Victor Vito.
He made a strong impression against the World Cup-winner when the two clashed in Wellington in round two. Another big performance will go a long way towards realising his own black jersey ambitions.
Still, he claims targeting Vito won't be his focus when kick-off arrives on Saturday night.
"To be honest, I'm just going to go out there and play number six for the Blues, that's my job right now," Luatua added.
"I'll try to retain this jersey for next week as well but it's a matter of doing the business on the weekend first. I'll just focus on that."
The Hurricanes head into the match in hot form after beating their last four opponents, while the Blues have only just returned to winning ways.
Last week's win over the hapless Highlanders snapped a three-game losing streak that started against the Bulls in round three.
While Luatua identifies the Wellington backs as a major threat, he will keep a close eye on fellow rookie Ardie Savea, who is yet another burgeoning prospect for the future.
Making his debut against the Waratahs last week, Savea was a stand-out performer at the breakdown and continually tested the defence with explosive running.
"Aride is a great player, he's come up through the ranks and [I'll] definitely look out for him this weekend," Luatua continued.
"With ball in hand he's dangerous and he's really niggly around the rucks."
News that Jerome Kaino is set to return to the franchise has Luatua confident he can continue to improve under the watch of his former mentor.
"I learned a lot; just the way he played, the way he carried himself," Luatua said of their relationship that began last year.
"In my first few games I took the advice he gave me which was 'carry strong and tackle hard' in those important moments when things are going rough."
Luatua doesn't feel that his spot on the blindside is under threat, and nor should he.
If his current form continues, Kaino could easily slot into number eight, or vice versa.
Quizzed whether he feels he is nearing the level of Kaino and other prominent New Zealand flankers he replied: "Nowhere near."
He said he needs to be more effective in tight and make a bigger impact up front before he can make such a statement.
"I think I'm getting a bit too loose. I've kind of identified that early and I'm looking to get tighter and do a bit more grunt work."
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