Breakout Blues star Hoskins Sotutu has added further weight to indications his international future lies in an All Blacks jersey.
By Clay Wilson for rnz.co.nz
The 21-year-old No 8 has been a standout performer in Super Rugby this year, his rapid rise thrusting him into conversations concerning the selection of the next New Zealand squad.
Sotutu is not only eligible for the All Blacks but also Fiji through his dad, former Blues and Auckland utility Waisake, and England through his mother.
The best hint yet about where the former Sacred Heart High School student's allegiance was came on Monday when his contract extension with the Blues was announced, keeping him in New Zealand until at least the end of the 2022 Super season.
After Blues training on Tuesday, Sotutu said his focus was on playing well at Super level and he would make decisions about his international future as they came.
He did, though, say that as a Kiwi-born and raised product, playing for the All Blacks would be like playing for Blues, playing for a team he cared about.
Sotutu said he was simply stunned he was even being talked about as a potential All Black.
"I'm pretty shocked to be honest.
"This is my first year really in the mix [at the Blues] and getting a lot of game time, so getting those comments is quite surreal.
"But I'm just trying to play well for the Blues and as long as I keep playing well for the Blues I guess the other things will come."
It would be a bold person to bet against things panning out in that fashion, based on how Sotutu had progressed already in 2020.
After playing a key role in the Blues 5-2 record prior to the Covid-19 suspension, he had been superb through the team's first three matches of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Sotutu led the competition in offloads and tackles won after the completion of round three, and was fourth in carries and lineouts won.
"I'm playing well because I love the [Blues] and I want the team to succeed. That's a big factor in how I'm playing at the moment.
"I feel like it was pretty easy [to re-sign]. It's like, I'm playing good rugby for a team that I love and all's good."
For his coaches and team-mates, a major reason behind his form had been his progression off the field.
It had been something head coach Leon MacDonald had noted, while veteran hooker James Parsons did not hesitate when asked what had impressed him most about Sotutu this year.
"His maturity off the field, his preparation.
"It's no secret if you get your prep right, you'll get the rewards on Saturday, and that's the biggest shift he's made."
Sotutu agreed, and said it was something that had come out of the review of his rookie season in 2019.
"I'm just trying to get involved and really taking it upon myself to get the team back to where we should be.
"I've just put myself out there more. Having more conversations with the coaches and senior players about about games, reviews and stuff like.
"Last year I was quite quiet and kept to myself, first year jitters sort of thing. I just decided [I needed] to change things up this year."
There was no doubt he had done that.
Having started 2020 simply wanting to nail down a starting spot in the Blues, Sotutu found himself as a contender for the next All Blacks squad.
Parsons said, when that squad was eventually announced, his young team-mate was "absolutely" worthy of being in the mix.
"There's no doubt. Kieran Read's obviously left so it's open there but there's a lot of other guys.
"There's good competition for him out there and that's the beauty of the All Blacks, isn't it. You can be talked about but it's one thing being talked about and another thing getting there.
"He just needs to keep his head down, keep doing what he's doing and stay consistent and the rewards will come."