The All Blacks could do a lot worse than picking Dalton Papalii for the vacant No.7 jersey, insists Blues coach Leon MacDonald.
With captain Sam Cane ruled out for 4-6 months with a pectoral injury, All Blacks coach Ian Foster faces a difficult choice over the openside flanker position for next month's tests against Fiji and Tonga, and the subsequent Rugby Championship.
Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea is a natural contender for the role and will make his Super Rugby Trans-Tasman return from injury this week, while the uncapped pair of Lachlan Boshier of the Chiefs and Ethan Blackadder of the Crusaders may also be contenders.
But MacDonald claims Foster should look no further than 23-year-old Papalii, who makes his first start of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, after missing the end of the Aotearoa competition with a knee injury.
"He's got a strong all-round game. His attacking game is strong, he's good in the wide channels.
“He likes getting physical, he wants to come in close to the rucks and carry.
"He's got good pace and good hands, and obviously his defence is his strength. His ability to get steals will be right up there in terms of numbers.
"Also his leadership's grown in the last 12 months in particular. He's really stepped up in that space as well."
Papalii made his All Blacks debut at the end of 2018 and now has four test caps to his name.
MacDonald also raves about what Papalii adds to the Blues, especially in combination with stand-in captain Tom Robinson.
"Dalts [Papalii] is a big part of our team. He brings energy, he loves defence, he loves defending.
“He loves getting over the ball, he wants to be in the middle of everything.
"Him and Tom Robinson as well, when those two are around the ball, they lead our 'passion edge'. Having Dalton back is going to be huge."
But MacDonald also says club captain Patrick Tuipulotu won't be rushed back into the starting side, after making his return alongside Papalii in last week's 48-21 victory over the Waratahs at Eden Park.
Tuipulotu will start from the bench again this week, as the Blues host the Brumbies.
"Patrick's been out of the game for a while. He managed to get sort of 25 minutes in the weekend and hopefully we can build that up a bit more this week.
"[I'm] always tempted to get the skipper out there and play more minutes, but we also want him in really good nick and feeling really good in the tail-end of the season as well.
"It's important that we graduate him in the right way and I thought he was immense for 20-odd minutes last week. Hopefully, he can extend that out a bit longer."
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