Patrick Tuipulotu contemplates emotional return to Eden Park with the Blues

If you were impressed by Patrick Tuipulotu's cameo last week, wait till he is let loose at Eden Park on Saturday.

Turbulent doesn't do Tuipulotu's start to this season justice. The All Blacks lock has been put through the ringer; sent home from the All Blacks end of year tour following a positive doping test, only to be cleared two months later by his B sample.

Somewhere along the line a mistake appears to have been made, though no-one yet has accepted responsibility.

During his provisional suspension he was forced to train by himself, largely on the outer of the team, and made to wait from November 12 to March 3 for his on-field return to the Blues.

Last week in Hamilton that wait finally ended; all the frustration and nervous energy came bubbling to the surface as he got the call up mid-way through the second half against the Chiefs. It was a feeling he had never experienced before.

"When they told me to warm up I didn't know what to do with myself," Tuipulotu said. "I was quite erratic; just wanting to get on. The overriding factor was just happy to be back."

In 28 minutes Tuipulotu made six carries, scored a try and generally smashed into everything. His contribution was unmissable.  

"I said to myself I would be fine training by myself but coming back into the environment it lifted me up. I was happy to come back and play with my mates again.

"I'm not taking my opportunities for granted now. It opened up my eyes, especially to life after rugby. It gave me some time to think about that and get a head start on that aspect of my life.

"I was happy with how it went but the lungs blew out. My aim was just to give some energy and try hit a few rucks."

Back in the starting team this week against the Highlanders, alongside fellow recalled All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina and George Moala, Tuipulotu expects to harness similar sentiments after the turmoil of worrying his career was in tatters.

"I always love playing at Eden Park. Warming up will be quite emotional for me because it has been so long since I played at home. My friends and family have already asked for heaps of tickets - maybe 30 or 40 of them. They're eager to come watch me so I'm looking forward to that."

It sure has been some ride. Now, having cleared his name, all going to plan in just over three months Tuipulotu can look forward to pulling on the black jersey when the British and Irish Lions arrive. 

"I'm putting my time and effort into now but the Lions tour is just around the corner. That's in the back of my mind."

Tuipulotu's powerful presence will play a major role as the Blues look to physically dominate the depleted Highlanders pack. The Chiefs schooled Tana Umaga's men at the breakdown, and the Blues realise the importance of making life difficult for Aaron Smith and his lethal pass.

"I want to try come in and dominate; impose myself physically and get some good go forward. Last week we struggled to do that and got bullied a bit. This week I'm looking forward to trying to make amends for that.

"We want to slow their ball down so we can set our defence to come up and get some turnovers so the breakdown is important.

"With a loss like that it's always hard to bounce back but it's easier knowing what we can make right. Everyone was fizzed up at our Tuesday contact session.

"Once we get on a roll we can be hard to stop so we're trying to do that right from kickoff."

Tuipulotu would never opt to go through what he has again. But if last week was any gauge, he's intent on making up for lost time.

BLUES: Michael Collins, Matt Duffie, Rieko Ioane, George Moala, Rene Ranger, Ihaia West, Augustine Pulu; Murphy Taramai, Blake Gibson, Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jimmy Tupou, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons (c), Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Akira Ioane or Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai.

HIGHLANDERS: Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Elliot Dixon (c), Gareth Evans,  Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienart-Brown. Reserves; Sekonia Pole, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Joe Wheeler, Jackson Hemopo, Dillon Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks.


Photo: Phil Walter (All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu makes his starting return for the Blues against the Highlanders at Eden Park on Saturday night).