Rugby: Patrick Tuipulotu the man to fill All Blacks' Brodie Retallick-Sam Whitelock void, says Blues coach Vern Cotter

Patrick Tuipulotu is a prime contender to answer one of the All Blacks' biggest problems in 2024, with Blues coach Vern Cotter backing his captain to fill the void of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick in the second row.

Following last year's World Cup in France, the longtime locking duo have both left the game in New Zealand, ending a partnership that dates back to 2011.

All up, the All Blacks have lost 262 caps of test experience, with Whitelock's 153 complemented by Retallick's 109.

Patrick Tuipulotu for the Blues.
Patrick Tuipulotu for the Blues. Photo credit: Getty Images

While Scott Barrett is a certainty to fill one of those spots, who partners him will likely be decided during this season's Super Rugby Pacific.

In 2023, Josh Lord and Tupou Vaa'i both played in the second test for the All Blacks and could be looked at as long-term options for the future.  

But should Scott Robertson favour an experienced head, Tuipulotu stands out as a clear frontrunner.

The 30-year-old hasn't played a test since October 2022, and was absent for most of 2023 with injury.

This season, though, Tuipulotu has been re-instated as Blues captain, at a time when the club begins a new era under Cotter.

And given his importance to the Blues, Cotter is backing Tuipulotu to fill the void left by the two All Blacks greats.  

"I think they'll be looking very closely at him," said Cotter. "He's just what they need with a couple of big players leaving.

"He's quietly building his way towards the start of the season. You'll see a good year from him, a great year from him."

However, Tuipulotu's return to the All Blacks could trigger another headache for the Blues.

As seen during the Ian Foster era, All Blacks will be subject to rest orders throughout Super Rugby, as a means of keeping players fresh for test duty.

While that criteria will change under Robertson, seeing a bespoke approach for each individual player, Cotter welcomes his charges being selected for higher honours, regardless of how difficult it might make his job in his first season with the Blues.  

"I'm not worried about that," he added. "There's other guys coming through.

"If he gets selected, we'll be rapt. Hopefully we'll get another couple as well.

"We want guys putting their hands up and pushing themselves to the point where they'll be considered.

"If they get selected, that's great. If we get a couple more, that'll be great for everyone else."