WELLINGTON (Reuters) - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has welcomed Patrick Tuipulotu’s decision to sign a new contract with Rugby New Zealand through 2019 and expected the Auckland Blues lock to play a major part in their bid for a third consecutive World Cup title in Japan.
The 23-year-old, who has impressed at Super Rugby and international level since making his debut in 2014, was a strong contender for last year’s World Cup squad but opted to have year-ending hip surgery in June to correct an issue that would have presented long-term health concerns.
Hansen’s side went on to beat Australia in the final and became the first side to win successive World Cups and the first to win the tournament three times.
“Patrick re-signing through to 2019 is great news,” Hansen said in a statement. “He’s a player who we feel has huge potential and we are expecting him to play a major role for the All Blacks over this period and even beyond.
“He was unfortunate last year with his injury to miss the rugby World Cup but clearly has the desire, drive and passion to get to the next one.”
Tuipulotu joins Brodie Retallick, Julian Savea, Dane Coles and Aaron Smith as having signed through the tournament in Japan, the first World Cup to be held in Asia.
Tuipulotu said the chance to play against the British and Irish Lions next year was also a factor in his decision to stay in New Zealand.
“Next year the Lions are coming to New Zealand which would be great to be part of,” Tuipulotu said. “Injury meant I missed a chance to play in the World Cup, and so long term I would love to be at the next one.”
While six stalwarts, including captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter, ended their All Blacks careers after the last World Cup Hansen had spent much of the previous four years building depth to ensure a smooth transition.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford
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