Rugby: Patrick Tuipulotu out to transform game in bid to break into All Blacks' World Cup plans

After skipping Super Rugby last year for a season in Japan's Top League, Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu feels he's come back a more complete player.

Tuipulotu has realised just how much the game has changed for tight forwards, and admits he has to change with it if he's to book a ticket to this year's Rugby World Cup in France.

The 30-year-old might be closing in on 100 appearances for the Blues, but after missing last season, the veteran feels like it's first day all over again.

Patrick Tuipulotu lifts the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman trophy (2021).
Patrick Tuipulotu lifts the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman trophy (2021). Photo credit: Getty Images

"[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."

But Tuipulotu has been learning a lot himself over the past 12 months.

A season in Japan with Toyota Verblitz was a chance to freshen up mentally, but it also showed the 43-test All Black he has to evolve. 

"In the last couple of years, the game has changed," he continued. "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."

Helping him grow his game to be more than just a powerful ball carrier, is the man who first selected him for the All Blacks.

Patrick Tuipulotu for the Blues (2021).
Patrick Tuipulotu for the Blues (2021). Photo credit: Getty Images

"I have a lot of respect for Steve Hansen. He had a big influence on me while I was over there."

Hansen forced Tuipulotu to get faster around the field to reflect a true modern-day lock.

The 30-year-old has a greater appreciation for what's required if he's to get back in, and maintain, his spot in the All Blacks.

"Getting faster around the paddock, having to work through a bit of pain to try and be faster," he detailed.

"I learned a lot from [South Africa's] Pieter-Steph du Toit in our team as well."

Blues coach Leon MacDonald has already noticed the difference, and is excited to have a key cog back in his forward pack.

"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 tantalizing prospect of a second World Cup later this year, Tuipulotu is ready to transfer the lessons learned in Japan back to the Blues.

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

A fitter, faster, and stronger Patrick Tuipulotu is primed to unleash on Super Rugby.