The Sydney Bledisloe Cup test has proved problematic for pretenders to Jerome Kaino's throne as the All Blacks premier blindside flanker, though Liam Messam's contribution as the world champions tightened their grip on the trophy on Saturday night suggests he could be the long-term solution.
Messam's first back-to-back caps since his sporadic 10-test international career began in 2008 continued a memorable season for the 28-year-old, who has leapfrogged Victor Vito and Adam Thomson as Kaino's successor in the only contestable loose forward role.
Vito was found wanting when the trans-Tasman rivals clashed at ANZ Stadium two years ago, his slow reaction to a scrum move in the lead-up to James O'Connor's try was the catalyst for Kaino's injection off the bench early in the second half and a stunting of the Wellingtonian's test career.
Messam retained his starting role from the third test against Ireland. Although he was hardly flawless in his debut against the Wallabies - a promising attack broke down when he was bundled into touch in the first half - he still exerted a positive influence in tandem with Richie McCaw and Kieran Read as the All Blacks prevailed 27-19 at ANZ Stadium.
It's not that any complacency was creeping into his game ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship rematch with the Wallabies on Eden Park.
“I guess there's a lot of talk with the six jersey, all I can do is do my best for the team,” he said, reckoning his biggest improvement was mental rather than physical.
“If you make a mistake, you can't turn back time, you've just got to get on with it. I think that's where I've really grown in my game.
"If I make a mistake as Shag [coach Steve Hansen] says ‘flush it down the dunny and move on'.”
Messam made two line breaks - the second almost produced a match-sealing try to Hosea Gear - and made the most yardage (53 metres) of any All Black forward.
He derived most satisfaction by the All Blacks' success in limiting the influence of David Pocock.
“We knew he was a major threat coming into the game so we tried to nullify him the best we could and the plan semi-worked on him,” he said. Fairfax NZ
- © Fairfax NZ News
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