All Blacks: Messam keen to settle at six

By Kris Shannon

The auditions to become the All Blacks' next blindside flanker continue in Hamilton on Saturday when Liam Messam gets a chance against Ireland. Photo / Getty Images.
The auditions to become the All Blacks' next blindside flanker continue in Hamilton on Saturday when Liam Messam gets a chance against Ireland. Photo / Getty Images.

The auditions to become the All Blacks' next blindside flanker continue in Hamilton on Saturday when Liam Messam gets a chance to showcase his talents against Ireland.

When Jerome Kaino announced in March he had signed a two-year deal to play in Japan, the scramble began to win the test jersey vacated by New Zealand's 2011 player of the year.

Victor Vito had the first opportunity to stake his claim in the All Blacks' first test victory in Auckland, but a knee injury forced him from the field and handed the initiative to Adam Thompson.

The Highlanders' No 6 started last week's narrow win in Christchurch, but a heavy diet of rugby left him in need of a break and opened the door for Messam - a man who wasn't even in the squad at the beginning of the week.

Now the versatile Messam, perhaps unsurprisingly given the options at openside flanker and No 8, has stated his desire to settle down at No 6.

"I'm really excited about getting the opportunity at six this week," he said. "For the last three or four seasons I've really tried to knuckle down at the blindside position at the Chiefs.

"I think in the past I've tried to deny it and say I'm happy playing any position, but I really want to knuckle down at six and it's something that does suit the way I play."

Coach Steve Hansen concurred with that sentiment and wanted to see what Messam, who has played the majority of his nine tests at No 8, could offer on the side of the scrum.

"We felt that Liam needs the opportunity to play at No 6 - that's his best position," Hansen said. "Every test match is a trial for everyone, as far as we're concerned. We've got to step up to the challenge this week and Liam's only one of 22 people that has to do that."

Messam's chances of stepping up to that challenge have been enhanced by his work this year with the Chiefs. After missing out on the World Cup squad and being told to work on the "little things in a rugby game", Messam has helped a much-improved Chiefs pack to the top of the Super 15 table.

The 28-year-old believed his elevation to the test team has as much to do with the form of the Chiefs as it does his own abilities.

"If they play well, I play well," Messam said of his teammates. "The way the Chiefs are playing this year is a lot different to their normal way of playing in the past. We're a bit more up the guts and that's helped my game.

"A lot of people see me as sort of a sevens player but this year with we've put a lot of onus on the forward pack to step up, because not a lot of people rated our forward pack and that's something that dented my pride as a leader of the Chiefs."

Messam proudly displayed a new cauliflower ear as proof of his physical efforts, something he hoped to continue at international level - wearing only one number on his back.

"I think the blindside gets involved a bit more with the nitty-gritty stuff. They're sort of the leader of defence and that's something I really enjoy. I think it suits my game to get stuck into it straight away."

- APNZ

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