Patrick McKendry / NZ Herald

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Patrick Tuipulotu will be sole captain of the Blues this year, a recognition which he describes as a privilege and one which he hopes will help him become a “world-class lock,” something he feels he hasn’t quite achieved yet.

The 26-year-old, who has played 30 tests for the All Blacks, said he didn’t stop training after the World Cup in Japan, where he played four matches, including as a replacement in the semifinal defeat to England in Yokohama and bronze medal playoff victory over Wales in Tokyo.

He credited an improved diet with getting him to the World Cup and he finally appears ready to deliver on his undoubted potential and physical gifts. At 1.98m and 120kg he is a considerable figure and his tackling against the Wallabies at Eden Park last year had several of the visitors spooked by the end of his team’s 36-0 victory.

With Brodie Retallick unavailable for the All Blacks this year due to a Japan sabbatical and Sam Whitelock not playing for the Crusaders in 2020 due to his own sabbatical deal, Tuipulotu will be New Zealand’s senior lock this Super Rugby season and should have no shortage of motivation.

“I’ve always thought [All Blacks aspirations] will take care of itself if I take care of my job here at the Blues,” he said. “There’s obviously a vacancy there.

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“One thing that excites me is striving to be a world-class lock. Personally I don’t think I have been over the past couple of years or during my tenure here. That’s another goal of mine.

“It could be mental, physical,” he added of his perceived shortcomings but stated: “At the moment I feel in the shape of my life. I haven’t stopped working since the World Cup. With that I hope I can bring the confidence to my game and from there spur the boys on.”

Asked about his nine tests last year, the most he has played in 12 months since making his debut in 2014, Tuipulotu said: “You have to make the most of every opportunity you get in the All Black environment. Obviously you want to stay there for as long as you can.

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“For me to make the World Cup squad was one thing but to stay there and be proud and keep putting the work in was another story. It has put me in good stead for this year.”

Tuipulotu shared the captaincy duties with flanker Blake Gibson last year. Coach Leon MacDonald said Gibson, who has been troubled with injuries over the last couple of years, wanted to concentrate on his own game.

For assistant coach Tana Umaga, the choice of captain was an obvious one. “Patrick, it’s all on his shoulders,” Umaga said. “He has a great support group around him and he’s flourished since we’ve named him. He’s really taken it upon himself to pull this team forward and make sure there are no excuses any more.

“Our All Blacks and captain have come back in great nick. They’re leading from the front.”

Neither Tuipulotu nor fellow All Black Rieko Ioane will play in the Blues’ final pre-season match against the Hurricanes at Onewa Domain on Friday, but both will be available for the first game against the Chiefs at Eden Park seven days later.

One young man lost to New Zealand rugby is Umaga’s nephew Jacob, a 21-year-old first-five named in the full England squad after representing his adopted nation at under-18 level.

Jacob, the son of Tana’s brother Mike, a former Samoa international, was in no doubt about which nation he wanted to represent, Tana said.

“We’re very proud of Jacob and what he’s achieved in such a short amount of time,” he said. “Those questions were answered a long time ago. Jake was always keen to play for England – we’re all behind him 100 per cent.”

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and is republished with permission.

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