Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Messam's chance to take blindside spot

A run of strong games for the Chiefs has earned Liam Messam an All Black callup for the start of the Bledisloe Cup series.

Last in first on, might be Messam's catchword while his battle cry should be about repeating the work he has produced in the past two months.

When the selectors decided to pick six loose forwards in a cropped squad of 28 for the Rugby Championship, Messam was the beneficiary.

His performances in the third test against Ireland, the last rounds of the Super 15 and then the playoffs, pitched him into the revised All Black squad and competition with Victor Vito and Adam Thomson for the blindside role. When the names were revealed, Messam won the selectors' approval to wear the No 6 jersey against the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.

Other notable decisions were the return of Cory Jane from injury on the wing and the continued approval for Hosea Gear on the other flank and Luke Romano at lock.

After a bleak period when a calf injury refused to settle, hooker Keven Mealamu has been picked to start his 94th test, while Ma'a Nonu will trot out for his 67th test after being spelled in June to recover his sting and appetite for the game.

No 8 Kieran Read is back on duty after his run of head knocks, allowing captain Richie McCaw to return to his favoured openside role and combat with Wallaby skipper David Pocock. Those changes were routine compared to Messam's elevation.

Few loose forwards in the game have the range of skills and athletic ability of the 28-year-old. The questions have always been about his capacity to translate that into the test arena.

From his All Black introduction on the 2008 end-of-year tour to Europe, the selectors have not been totally convinced, choosing him for just 10 tests in five years.

Some of that erratic selection has occurred because of Messam's ability. He has played all across the loose forwards for the Chiefs, filling in for injured teammates or those who have lost form. His versatility has not helped his international claims and there have been worries about his decision-making.

However, this season at the Chiefs, he has been used more on the blindside while he is also adept at covering in the backfield or being used as a ball carrier or tackler up in the line.

Those subtle changes seem to have brought a more consistent standard to his game and have earned him promotion this weekend ahead of the powerful Vito and pacey Thomson.

A squad of 24 will travel to Sydney for the test, with Charlie Faumuina and Thomson joining the party in case of injury or illness.

Those who have missed the cut for this trip are Julian Savea, Tamati Ellison, Sam Cane, Wyatt Crockett and Conrad Smith who is recovering after his recent eye surgery.

"This Bledisloe Cup contest brings two challenges," coach Steve Hansen said.

"The first is our opponents who we clearly respect, but just as important is the second challenge which is about us being better than we were before."

The teams last played in the World Cup semifinal when the All Blacks succeeded 20-6.

WALLABIES

Sydney, 10pm Saturday

Kurtley Beale
A. Ashley-Cooper
Rob Horne
Anthony Faingaa
Digby Ioane
Berrick Barnes
Will Genia
S. Higginbotham
David Pocock (c)
Dave Dennis
Nathan Sharpe
Sitaleki Timani
Sekope Kepu
Tatafu Polota Nau
Benn Robinson
Australia: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Drew Mitchell.

ALL BLACKS

Israel Dagg
Cory Jane
Ma'a Nonu
S Bill Williams
Hosea Gear
Daniel Carter
Aaron Smith
Kieran Read
Richie McCaw (c)
Liam Messam
Sam Whitelock
Luke Romano
Owen Franks
Keven Mealamu
Tony Woodcock
All Blacks: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith


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- NZ Herald

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