Tanerau Latimer could not be blamed for feeling a bit like a forgotten man.
The 2009 All Black is only 27 and playing the best rugby of his career for the Chiefs in Super Rugby.
He says he knows he is up to test rugby standards but is philosophical about being ignored by the All Blacks selectors.
This is the fourth season the openside flanker hasn't had a look-in at the spot that has been completely dominated by the great Richie McCaw.
Others have been tried as McCaw's back-up and now Latimer's 21-year-old Chiefs team-mate Sam Cane is being groomed as McCaw's eventual successor as well as being seen as someone who can help prolong the All Blacks skipper's career by occasionally taking his place such as in the recent series against France.
When a back-up to Cane was required in the French series, the All Blacks selectors brought in Crusader Matt Todd.
Bay of Plenty team-mates Cane and Latimer have battled each other over the last two seasons to tie down the Chiefs' No 7 jersey but the side's coaches have preferred to rotate them and try to get the best out of both.
Head coach Dave Rennie this year often let it be known the Chiefs feel they have the country's best two openside flankers outside of McCaw.
It was Latimer who got the starts in last year's Super Rugby semifinal and final and it was the older man who got the nod for the big match against the Crusaders just before the recent break.
"I know I am up to [test rugby] standard," Latimer said.
"Just talking to the coaches here, they say I am doing well and to keep it up but that's not the way the All Blacks see it and that's fine by me.
"My main focus is that we've got three more round-robin games and we want to finish on top so we don't have to travel."
Latimer said he couldn't help watch the All Blacks play and thinkabout what he would he have done in certain game situations.
"As a rugby player you're always like that, watching other games and thinking ‘I could have done this or could have done that' or whatever."
He admits he was surprised at the quality and physicality of the French and said it showed how much the All Blacks missed their captain McCaw.
Latimer also watched French captain and open side flanker Thierry Dusautoir closely in the three-test series.
"He was the man. I thought he was very good at the breakdowns, very physical and he was always a presence," Latimer said.
While the openside flanker role was always evolving, he believed the core roles would always remain the same.
"Being very physical at the breakdown, running hard, being a link man and making the tackles - those roles will never change," Latimer said.
"The better you can do those the better player you are."
In preparing for their final round-robin games, the Chiefs have made subtle tweaks in their play and worked on areas such as their forward drive.
Latimer said Friday's clash with the Hurricanes would be a fascinating contest.
"We heard they pinched a few of our ideas from the game we last played them in so it will be interesting to see how they cope with it," he said.
"In particular I'm talking about getting two or three ball carriers into the contact, which has been used pretty well by us although it came unstuck against the Crusaders where they cottoned onto it and dropped our ball carrier straight away."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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