New Zealand’s game with South Africa on Saturday will be Daniel Carter’s first without either Aaron Mauger or former captain Tana Umaga by his side, but backs coach Wayne Smith believes Sam Tuitupou will provide ample support.
The 24-year-old inside centre has returned to the side this year after impressing in the Super 14 with the Chiefs and partners fly-half Carter with Mauger taking a well-earned rest.
Tuitupou made his debut in 2004, playing in six Tests that year, although his next game with the All Blacks was not until last month’s 25-19 win over Argentina.
But with Tuitupou having worked hard on his game in his time away from the senior national squad, Smith is confident he will justify his recall.
"He’s sharper, I think he went through a period where he lost some of his sharpness," he said.
"He’s cleverer, certainly at training I’ve been very impressed with his skills set, but we’ve still not seen that applied consistently in games. By that I mean, he’s got a really good drop-punt for example, you just don’t often see it applied.
"He’s got very good hands, he’s such a good penetrator that he often plays that sort of game, but we’re just trying to get him to the stage where he feels he can use those skills and the day he does, he is going to be a lot more difficult to mark.
"You have got to dominate the collisions in a rush defence, and he does that well too," Smith added, with reference to the Springboks’ style of defence.
Smith acknowledges that Tuitupou is still learning, but with the vastly-experienced Mils Muliaina available to lend a hand at outside centre, he is convinced the Wellington clash will only do him good.
"We’re working hard on Sammy, he’s really made big strides in terms of using his eyes and helping Daniel with calls from second phase play, and Mils is probably one of the better talkers in the backline," added Smith.
"We feel we’ve got that covered and it will be good for Sammy as part of his ongoing development to take that responsibility and to have two people beside him who are really good at it."
This is both team’s second game of this year’s Tri-Nations campaign with the All Blacks claiming a 32-12 win over Australia in their opening game, before South Africa suffered an Australian backlash last week, losing 49-0.