Liam Messam reckons he has a new cauliflower ear to prove just how much he has tightened up his loose forward play this year.
But the 28-year-old Chiefs co-captain says he is not dwelling on his dropping from the All Blacks last year for motivation as he contemplates his first start in the black jersey since he played against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last year.
While tightening up his play and improving his lineout leaping were things he was told to go away and work on after being given the news he had failed to make the 30-man World Cup squad last year, Messam credited the Chiefs' successful new style of play this year as much as anything with getting him back in the national team.
"It helps with the Chiefs playing so well this year," said Messam. "A lot of credit needs to go to the coaches and the boys in the team – they play well and I play well – and obviously there are a few injuries in the loose forwards here in this team so I'm just really grateful for the opportunity."
He had taken his omission from the World Cup squad on the chin and moved on.
It was the style of the Chiefs' forward play that had helped him move in the direction the All Blacks selectors wanted.
"Obviously you can see the way the Chiefs are playing this year is a lot different to in the past.
"It's a lot more up-the-guts and that's helped my game I think. It's brought a new dimension to my game.
"A lot of people see me as a wide-running, sevens sort of player out in the backline but this year definitely in the Chiefs there has been a lot of onus on the forward pack to step up.
"Not a lot of people rated our forward pack in the Chiefs and I guess that dented my pride, being a leader in the Chiefs, and I think that brought new elements to my game."
Messam said that while he was not happy with the cauliflower ear to prove the time he has now spent doing a lot of work in the tight and he still enjoyed having a bit of fun running out wide with ball in hand, he knew his prime job started much closer in to the action and that is where he has made his biggest mark in 2012, particularly in defence.
Last year was not the first time he had been dropped from the All Blacks but he said his Christian faith had helped keep him focused.
"I set high standards for myself when I play and train and for me it's just a matter of living up to those standards on Saturday night. A bonus for me is that I get to play on my home track in front of friends and family and lots of Chiefs supporters."
Although he has played all three loose forward positions during his career, which includes a record 91 appearances for the Chiefs and 84 for Waikato, most of Messam's previous nine test caps for the All Blacks have been at No8.
Now he gets to start a test in the No6 jersey he has most often occupied for his Super Rugby and provincial teams.
"I'm really excited about getting an opportunity at six this week. For the past three or four seasons I've really tried to knuckle down to the blindside position with the Chiefs and to get an opportunity with the All Blacks – I can't wait till Saturday.
"I think in the past I've tried to deny it and think I can play any position but now I really want to knuckle down at six."
Messam's mobility and ball skills have on the surface always seemed better suited to No8 but he believes the nitty-gritty work required of a No6 does seem to suit him.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Richie McCaw now the greatest All Black of all time?