Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Messam aims to carry golden run into All Blacks

Liam Messam, left, with Israel Dagg. Messam's increasingly physical playing style has pleased All Black selectors. Photo / Dean Purcell
Liam Messam, left, with Israel Dagg. Messam's increasingly physical playing style has pleased All Black selectors. Photo / Dean Purcell

Liam Messam's biggest challenge this weekend will be carrying his dominant form into the test arena.

The Chiefs co-captain was inspirational for his side in the playoffs as they fought their way to a second consecutive Super Rugby crown.

Messam scored a vital try in the grand final win over the Brumbies two weeks ago and is likely to be given the No6 jersey for the All Blacks when they open the Rugby Championship against Australia in Sydney on Saturday night.

Messam is a player who has been in and out of the All Blacks during the past couple of years but has cemented himself recently as Jerome Kaino's heir apparent.

The loose forward, who previously carved out a niche as a sevens player, said the Chiefs' success had laid the platform to perform well for the national side this year.

"It does, especially confidence-wise, and footy's all about confidence and a lot of boys are running around with a bit of confidence," Messam said.

"So hopefully it can fall into that All Blacks jersey as well."

Following Kaino's departure the search for a long-term blindside to fill that physical role has been a difficult task for the All Blacks selectors.

Victor Vito and Messam have both been given opportunities but Vito's failure to make the Rugby Championship squad suggests Messam is the man of the moment. His physical contributions for the Chiefs in the Super Rugby playoffs indicated he had made the necessary shifts.

Aside from recent debutant Steven Luatua, Messam also has Brad Shields and Luke Whitelock on his tail.

Messam has heard the critics, who say he doesn't impose himself enough on the game at test level, but said he didn't let them bother him.

"My motto is I don't let people convince me what I can and can't do and I leave that up to me and I've been doing that for the last couple of years."

The 29-year-old started two of the three June tests against France and continued to build on his promising form from last year's end-of-year tour.

He will now have the opportunity to assert himself as the undisputed starting blindside flanker for the All Blacks with a strong showing in the Rugby Championship.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Messam was starting to realise his full potential.

"Like most people, when you're here long enough you start to mature and take some responsibilities and as a human being he's getting older and I think that's helped him physically," Hansen said.

"I think he's a lot more physical in his game. I think what the Chiefs are asking him to do is making him play more physical and he's just bringing that in to this environment and that's what we need him to do."


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