5 Nov 2016

Hansen tells Tuipulotu to be himself

10:05 am on 5 November 2016

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has drilled one key lesson above all into young lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

Patrick Tuipolotu.

Patrick Tuipolotu. Photo: Photosport

Don't be Sam Whitelock or Brodie Retallick - just be Patrick Tuipulotu.

However the burly 23-year-old 10-test lock will have to do his best impression of the all-conquering duo when he lines up alongside an out-of-position Jerome Kaino against Ireland on Sunday morning in Chicago.

Whitelock and Retallick, an ever-present combination in Hansen's run-on XVs since 2012, have both been ruled out of the side's first northern fixture of 2016 with injury.

Experienced understudy Luke Romano, meanwhile, was forced to travel home after suffering a loss in the family.

The trio's absence makes Tuipulotu, with just 10 caps to his name, the side's most experienced locking option against the Irish.

Yet the Aucklander, who has made three Test appearances in 2016, said he still feels like a young kid when watching stalwarts such as Kaino do their thing.

"I'm still the kid who grew up idolising him and I still do now, with the way he plays," Tuipulotu said.

"(There's) no issues at all, for me I'm just happy to get out there and play alongside him."

Tuipulotu burst onto the Test scene in 2014, making seven appearances in the black jumper and going on the side's end-of-year tour.

Yet double hip surgery in 2015 saw the 127kg behemoth miss much of the Blues' Super Rugby campaign and New Zealand's World Cup title defence.

He then missed a chunk of the 2016 season with a hand injury.

It's something that makes his current position even more satisfying.

"It goes to show how much work I've put in, especially with a big setback like that," Tuipulotu said.

"I still don't think I'm where I want to be but I'm always wanting to improve, basing my goals on before I went into surgery."

With Whitelock and Retallick unavailable, Hansen has called uncapped pair Scott Barrett and Vaea Fifita into the squad, with the former to start against Ireland on the bench.

Tuipulotu, who once played with Barrett in the New Zealand under-20s, liked what he saw.

"They both deserve to be here, they're good players, the same can be said of everyone in this team," Tuipulotu said.

"In terms of helping the new guys out, I do, getting them up to speed with how things go in this environment."