New Zealand's Sam Whitelock is excited by the rise of fellow lock Patrick Tuipulotu and backed the 26-year-old to provide able cover for the injured Brodie Retallick during the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Retallick is likely to miss the pool stage of the tournament as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder sustained in the draw with South Africa on July 27, but Whitelock expects Tuipulotu to handle the pressure when he makes his World Cup debut.
"He's definitely taken a step to where he potentially can go as a player and that's very, very exciting for him individually but also for us a team," Whitelock told the All Blacks website.
Tuipulotu, one of four locks selected by coach Steve Hansen in the All Blacks squad, missed out on the World Cup in 2015 because of a hip issue that required surgery.
Starting in place of suspended lock Scott Barrett, he played arguably his best game for the national side when they defeated Australia 36-0 to retain the Bledisloe Cup last month.
"It's awesome to see growth in a player," said Whitelock, who will feature in his third World Cup.
"He's probably lost a little bit of weight too, which has meant he's a little bit more mobile but he's still keeping that great strength he does have," he added.
New Zealand are in Pool B and begin their title defence against South Africa on Saturday, with matches against Canada, Namibia and Italy to follow.