In a competitive marketplace where supply significantly outstrips demand, it was the abrasive edge and physicality of Liam Squire and Elliot Dixon that won them their All Blacks places in the loose forwards.

The selectors were in the enviable position of having a seemingly endless list from which to pick their backrow for the series against Wales. Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read were locked in. The question was always who would join them?

When Ardie Savea suddenly gave up on his sevens dream in late April, he was in. It was that simple. The selectors wanted another openside in the mix and Savea couldn't be left out.

His form was compelling - in the sort of category that would have made it a travesty had he been left out for the solid, but less impressive Matt Todd.


The remaining two places had plenty of candidates. Steven Luatua was chugging along well enough with the Blues. Taleni Seu was catching the eye at the Chiefs with his ability to also play lock. Brad Shields was imposing himself at the Hurricanes; Jordan Taufua was thundering about at the Crusaders and Luke Whitelock was delivering on the potential that saw him win a cap in 2013.

But Squire and Dixon were delivering performances that were a little bit different to their peers'.

Both were playing with a physicality that excited the selectors. Their respective desire and ability to impose themselves without the ball, was what separated them. The All Blacks aren't looking for high tackle counts as such - it's more important to them that they find players who can dominate opponents with the ferocity of their collision work. Knocking men down is good - knocking them backwards is better.

"He's really impressed us before he had a bit of a break there with injury he was in outstanding form physically," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen of Squire. "He was imposing himself. His tackling was very dominant and he has got an X-factor when it comes to ball carrying. He's extremely quick for a forward and has a high work rate."

Squire confessed to having low expectations about whether he would be picked - believing that he was out of the running because of having been on the bench for the Highlanders these past few weeks. But his lack of confidence also reflects that he has arrived through an unusual route.

Squire didn't even play First XV rugby - opting to leave school as soon as he could. When he couldn't break into the Manawatu representative scene, he took a random offer to play for Nelson Marist and won a place at the Tasman Academy.

"I was farming in Palmy after school and playing a little bit of club footy," he said. "I wouldn't have thought this [making the All Blacks] at all in my rugby career. Especially not from where I was five years ago."

Dixon's route to test football is more conventional but Hansen sees him in much the same mould as Squire: "He is a big part of what the Highlanders are all about. He is very physical and he asks a lot of questions of the opposition and now is the time to see whether he can do that at international level."


Dixon's selection is a reward for his consistent physicality. That matters. It's one thing to have a good season, another again to back it up with more of the same and that was the clincher. Hansen emphasised Dixon hadn't done anything particularly different in 2016, but by maintaining the edge he showed last year, he convinced the selectors he was ready.