Liam Messam has finally come of age

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012
Liam Messam
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STAR ON THE RISE: All Blacks blindside flanker Liam Messam.

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Too small, inconsistent, out of position, not tight enough. Liam Messam has heard it all before.

His has been a career of curiosity since he broke on to the scene as the new star of the New Zealand sevens team.

When, not if, was the popular vernacular when it came to Messam and the All Blacks.

He was skilful, fit, intensely competitive, but at the highest level he was somehow unable to impose himself physically on the big matches.

With 10 test caps in five years, time seemed to be running out for the talented 28-year-old.

So why now?

Messam isn't the first player with seemingly immense talent to take some time to find the elusive consistency that makes for better than bit-part All Blacks.

Jerome Kaino came and went, Ma'a Nonu took time to establish himself, Piri Weepu too.

It's hard not to feel that adversity has forged a mental toughness and character in those players and the same could be true of Messam, a player who has repeatedly felt the sharp end of the selectors' axe.

In Sydney tonight he will start consecutive tests for the first time since his debut in 2008.

He has been dumped plenty of times, most cruelly before last year's Rugby World Cup.

“Those experiences make you tougher as a person,” he said.

“I've been through some tough life experiences, but I believe I've come through tougher as a person and a player.

"My disappointments? I just take it on the chin and move on to the next thing in my life. That's the way I've always lived. I don't live in the past."

On the evidence of the Chiefs season Messam is true to those words.

Along with Aaron Cruden, another man to have faced challenges in his life, and Sonny Bill Williams, Messam seemed able to go to the top drawer week after week.

Is he bigger? Has he drastically changed his game? Or has he just learned to be consistent?

“I used to get that too small kind of tag, but I just try to fly in as hard as I can and hurt people,” he laughed when asked if he had packed on some extra weight.

“It's been a mixture of things. Making sure you get your week right. We had Smithy [Wayne Smith] there with the Chiefs this year and he brought a bit of edge to training and to our preparation so come Saturday that becomes the fun part and you can just concentrate on playing.

"I've worked hard on off the field trying to do things right and I guess that's helped this season.

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"I've heard that word [consistency] thrown around a lot this year. I think I've just put a lot attention to detail into my game, working hard, a lot of effort during the season. It's been a lot different to other Chiefs teams I've played in.

"I've had to be a little bit tighter, but still had the opportunities to run with the ball. I've just rolled my sleeves up and got stuck in . . . That's going to be my mindset in this [All Black] environment, I'm going to roll my sleeves up.”

It's an attitude that saw All Black coach Steve Hansen recall Messam for the third test against Ireland and he grabbed his opportunity.

Messam has leap-frogged Adam Thomson and Victor Vito for perhaps the biggest start of his career and maybe a chance to finally claim a more permanent role.

The other thing that has stuck out about Messam's 2012 season has been “bromance” with Chiefs team-mate Williams, with whom he has formed a close bond on and off the field.

“Me and Sonny gel well. If you were at training yesterday you would have seen me tap him out, wrestle him to the ground, and strangle him, which I'm very proud of tapping out the heavyweight [boxing] champion of New Zealand,” Messam laughed.

“Nah, we just seem to click. I guess every team has that sort of ‘bromance' if that's what you want to call it and it's obviously Sonny and me with the Chiefs.

“But come on the field we know each other's play, our strengths and weaknesses and we get each other up, so hopefully the other boys can feed off that.”

- Fairfax Media

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