Despite being left out of the Blues' first Super Rugby squad of 2020, coach Leon MacDonald is confident that Akira Ioane will come back as a better player.
Ioane, 24, was the standout omission from the Blues' side to face the Chiefs at Eden Park on Friday, overlooked for Hoskins Sotutu at number eight.
However, while Ioane's attitude and fitness have previously come into question from above, coach MacDonald insists that Ioane's axing is more about Sotutu's form in pre-season, rather than the fringe All Black's call-up having done anything wrong.
"Akira is unlucky," MacDonald told media today.
"He's trained really well, he's in good condition, he's fit, he's hungry.
"But, I talked about the competition in the squad, and Hoskins has been one of the standouts as well. It's a bit of a luxury to have two quality players to choose from.
"We said to the squad that form is critical, and we're rewarding Hoskins for being outstanding. He's got Aki [Ioane] breathing down his neck, so it puts a bit of pressure on Hos to stay there, and he's pretty excited about his opportunity."
MacDonald also says that Ioane has reacted positively to being left out, the loose forward having stated his desire for a strong 2020 season after last year's disappointment.
"Aki's relishing the competition with Hoskins. It's bought the best out of him and you can see it on the training fields. It's a good sign that we've got genuine competition in all positions.
"It's not because Aki's playing poorly, because he's not, he's playing really well. It's because the other guy's stepped up.
"He's a competitor, and he won't like not playing - nor he should. You'd expect him to be a little bit disappointed not to play.
"Knowing him, he'll keep doing what he's doing. He's putting his hand up big time, and he's asking the right questions I think."