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Excitement over Luatua's Samoa call-up is ruined by Bristol update

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Excitement that Steven Luatua was one of two former All Blacks named in the 31-strong Samoa squad for their upcoming European tour was quickly quelled by Bristol boss Pat Lam, who reported that the 31-year-old back-rower is still injured and won’t be available to play. Luatua had won 15 All Blacks caps – the last in 2016 – when he decided to take up a contract offer at Bristol following the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand.

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That switch overseas finished his international career as the All Blacks only select home-based players, but World Rugby’s recent change in the eligibility rules paved the way this year for Luatua to be considered by Samoa as he had completed the requisite stand-down period since his last Test cap.

This resulted in Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua including Luatua in the squad named on Wednesday for the November matches away to Italy in Padova, Georgia at a venue to be decided and Romania in Bucharest. However, that selection overlooked the fact that Luatua had been injured since pre-season with Bristol and it was no secret that he isn’t expected to be available to play for some time yet.

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It was September 14 when Bears coach Lam provided a disappointing update on Lautua, who strained his calf in the final training session before an August 19 pre-season game at Brive. “Stevie is going to be at least a twelve-weeker,” admitted Lam at the media briefing last month ahead of Bristol’s round two Gallagher Premiership game at Wasps.

Twenty-one days later, he repeated this prognosis on Luatua, dashing hopes that he would be lining out with a Samoan squad that also includes Jeff Toomaga-Allen, another ex-All Black who has also changed his allegiance.

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It’s awesome for Samoa to have someone of Steve’s leadership and experience, particularly as they head towards the World Cup which is the main focus,” began Lam. “But unfortunately, Steve won’t be available for that. He won’t be available because he is not due back until the end of November/the beginning of December. That is his timeline. But it is great he is considered in there because it is great for Samoa rugby.

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“He will be available when he gets back from injury after the November series and be back and playing for the Bears and then build up and hopefully stay injury-free for Samoa for the World Cup.”

Asked might Luatua still be given the freedom to link up with Samoa at some stage in November to introduce himself to his new Test level squad despite being unable to play, Lam added: “If it is local but he has got to get his rehab and everything done here. What is most important is Stevie getting back on the field.

“He is no good to anybody – Samoa or ourselves – if he is not back on the field so his priority is his rehab, his programme that he has been doing every day diligently. That doesn’t change and outside of that, I am pretty sure he will catch up with the Samoa coaches.”

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