Liam Messam faced a testing time in his professional rugby career when dropped from the All Blacks last year.
But it seems the new-look Chiefs this year under Dave Rennie have helped him develop just the sort of game the All Blacks coaches were looking for, prompting him to be placed on standby and train with the national side in Hamilton this week and then be made an official member of the squad after lock Ali Williams' injury in the second test.
With the man who kept him out of the World Cup, Victor Vito, sidelined by a knee injury suffered in the first test against Ireland, Messam was bumped up the pecking order and now with Kieran Read in doubt after a second head knock there is an outside chance he might make the match 22 for the third and final test, at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.
Messam, who is now the most capped Chiefs player in the 17-year history of Super Rugby, has always been a versatile loose forward capable of playing all three positions.
But for a long time he was stuck with the tag of being a sevens player who was too loose for the international game in the 15-a-side code.
Even after he shook that off and managed to play 11 games for the All Blacks over the past four seasons, including nine tests, he has found himself in and out of the squad and was devastated when he missed out on last year's World Cup squad.
"I guess the way the Chiefs have played this year we've changed to be a bit more physical, which I've been enjoying all season," Messam said.
"When I got dropped last year it was a big moment in my career and a lot went through my head that year so I'm just glad to be back and ready to go."
Messam got the first reassurance he was on the right track this year when the All Blacks coaches came visiting the Chiefs camp.
"They were happy with my game then so I've just got to keep improving, week-in and week-out."
He said yesterday that he was uncertain what to expect this week, having only just come into camp with the All Blacks, but said it would be "awesome" to get a run for them in a test on his home ground.
Assistant coach Ian Foster said Adam Thomson, who had replaced Vito in the starting XV for the second test, was fine after another knock to his nose during that match, while Read would be monitored over the next few days and a call would be made later in the week.
Messam might have lacked match play during the last two weeks while the Super Rugby competition has taken a break for the international test window, but he has certainly not been idle and won't lack any fitness, with the Chiefs players having undertaken a testing daily cross-fit training schedule in their own time.
He said he was itching to get back on the playing field.
"I know I can perform at this level and if I get a crack I've just got to get out there and give it a good go."
Meanwhile, Foster said Saturday's third test would be a great way to finish the series in a lot of ways, despite the All Blacks having clinched it 2-0 already.
"It's a big game for both of us. They'll smell a bit of blood and we need to go back and get our levels right."
Foster said his first two test weeks with the All Blacks since being appointed assistant coach had been a "fantastic experience" but it was neat to be home in Hamilton and preparing for a test that would have a real edge to it.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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