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Luatua steps up for All Blacks

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 13/11/2016 Angelo Risso

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 11: Steven Luatua of the New Zealand All Blacks throws the ball during the All Blacks captains run at Stadio Olimpico on November 11, 2016 in Rome, Italy. © Phil Walter/Getty Images ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 11: Steven Luatua of the New Zealand All Blacks throws the ball during the All Blacks captains run at Stadio Olimpico on November 11, 2016 in Rome, Italy. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen demanded this week that loose forward Steven Luatua get physical in his side's clash with Italy.

And after a try, 11 carries, seven tackles and a pair of line breaks, it's safe to say the versatile Blues ace was listening.

Luatua, 25, played the full 80 minutes in rested skipper Kieran Read's No.8 jumper against Gli Azzurri as his side coasted to a 68-10 victory.

The Test in the Eternal City marks a surprise return to the black jumper for the Auckland-born Luatua, who was dropped after earning 14 caps in 2013 and 2014.

"That's what the coach wanted but I just stuck to my guns and played the kind of code I'm used to," Luatua told reporters after the match.

"Playing to my strengths and being physical in that way, not looking for big hits because that's when you start chasing the game."

The clash also marked Luatua's first taste of rugby action since ending the provincial campaign with Auckland exactly one month ago.

The 196cm Luatua consequently struggled in the final 15 minutes with leg cramp, something Hansen suggested may have something to do with his diet.

But he was nevertheless pleased with Luatua's display, standing in ably for Read at the lineout and breakdown.

He couldn't come off because there was no one else to put on, he said.

"It's a big improvement from Steven and he's just got to continue that, any chance he can do it."

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