Super Rugby Pacific: ‘Transformed’ Patrick Tuipulotu relishing return to the Blues

Patrick Tuipulotu Blues 2021 - PA.jpg Credit: Alamy
Patrick Tuipulotu Blues 2021 - PA.jpg Credit: Alamy

All Blacks second-row Patrick Tuipulotu is relishing his return to the Blues, after playing in Japan in 2022, and believes he is coming back to New Zealand as a more complete player.

Tuipulotu said upon his return to the Blues, he has realised that the game has changed considerably for the tight forwards and conceded that he will have to embrace that change if he wants to be in New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup squad in France later this year.

Feels like a new player at the Blues

Despite being an experienced head with nearly 100 appearances for the Blues, he feels like a new player after missing the Auckland-based franchise’s 2022 Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

“[There were] a lot of young guys when I came back in,” Tuipulotu told Newshub. “I didn’t know their faces, I didn’t know their names.

“In that aspect, it’s been good getting to know everyone again. It’s like the first day of school.”

However, the 30-year-old feels he has also learnt a lot during his season as a Toyota Verblitz player in the Japan Rugby League One competition. He returns to the Blues mentally refreshed, and his spell in Japan showed him that he must evolve.

“In the last couple of years, the game has changed,” he said. “Not only for locks, but for tight forwards as well.

“You’ve got to be able to play a lot more, you’ve got to be fitter.”

Tuipulotu is renowned for his ball carrying but has improved in other areas of his game and credited former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, who is Toyota Verblitz’s director of rugby, for helping him with that improvement.

“I have a lot of respect for Steve Hansen,” he added. “He had a big influence on me while I was over there.”

Hansen forced him to improve on his speed around the field which is a prerequisite for the modern-day second-row.

Tuipulotu has a greater appreciation for the requirements needed to return the All Blacks set-up and retain his spot in the squad.

“Getting faster around the paddock, having to work through a bit of pain to try and be faster,” he explained. “I learned a lot from [South Africa’s] Pieter-Steph du Toit in our team as well.”

Meanwhile, Blues head coach Leon MacDonald has already noticed the change in Tuipulotu and is excited to have such a crucial player back in his pack.

Eyeing a World Cup spot

“There’s a good energy from him,” MacDonald said of Tuipulotu. “He’s really motivated to go to the World Cup.

“He’s in good shape physically, and quite refreshed after spending a bit of time away.”

And with the prospect of featuring at his second successive World Cup, Tuipulotu is ready to implement the lessons learned in Japan at the Blues.

“Playing well for the Blues is the top goal, and if I do that well, everything else takes care of itself,” he said.

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