Late last year, prior to the loss to Ireland, Liam Squire gripped the handrail as he hobbled up the stairs of the All Blacks hotel on the outskirts of Dublin. He looked a broken man.
It was early in the test week. Seeing All Blacks slowly haul their large, battered frames about at that stage is not uncommon. Even with modern medicine and extensive recovery protocols, heavy knocks take days, weeks, to properly heal.
Carrying niggly, nagging injuries into games, particularly at the backend of the season, is part of the job. Few ever play at 100 per cent.
Yet even in this context, Squire's Zimmer frame like movement stood out. After a torrid test at Twickenham the previous week he was clearly on his last legs. He had to be managed through the training week, just to get to game day.
At that juncture, as the All Blacks prepared for their second last test of 2018, Steve Hansen had already taken the unusual step of sharing the fact that Sam Whitelock's body was shot.
Whitelock pushed on to play that test against Ireland, too, but returned home the following week – not travelling to Rome – to begin extended leave designed to get his body right for World Cup year.
Squire, meanwhile, lasted 32 minutes of the Dublin defeat, before being replaced by Scott Barrett, and then did not feature for another six months after being troubled by hip, knee and personal challenges.
Dublin was the culmination of a year in which Squire's body began failing him which, thus, significantly nullified his impact.
By the end of last year, we were left wondering whether he was the same player who surged past Jerome Kaino – no mean feat – in 2017.
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He was of course, but his body wouldn't let him show it.
Thankfully the man who revealed himself for the Highlanders last week, in his second match of 2019, was the Squire of old.
As Waratahs first five-eighth Mack Mason and wing Cam Clark copped the brunt of two rampaging Squire charges, exactly what we have been missing became evident.
Sure the Waratahs were five Wallabies short in Invercargill, and this was a long way from test opposition, but Squire's dominant 48 minutes confirmed he remains the best All Blacks' blindside. By some distance, too.
Squire's absence evoked a prolonged period of national fretting as the audition between Shannon Frizell and Vaea Fifita never reached any great heights or compelling conclusion.
There is time for both yet but neither seems at Squire's level.
Jackson Hemopo is another candidate, offering versatile lock/loose forward cover, but Barrett trumps him in this department. And there is then the prospect of using Sam Cane at six, in tandem with Ardie Savea.
All these options appear secondary to peak Squire, though. He epitomises the traits the All Blacks crave from their six. In short, an uncompromising, mongrel presence; someone who thrives on dominating collisions while offering another lineout and ball-carrying option.
The only issue now is whether Squire's body can handle the repeat rigours and hold together long enough to again show his true value for the All Blacks.
No one could ever question Squire's toughness – his favourite pastime is hunting wild pigs, after all. But the abrasive nature of his game is not conducive to longevity.
In the same movement Squire clobbered Clark last week he also suffered a shoulder stinger, and then left the field. This is the concern.
There is an element of a gamble about his fitness, particularly at a World Cup where players can only be replaced if they are ruled out of the tournament.
This is the poser the All Blacks will be grappling with as they weigh the balance of their loose forward and locking mix.
Given his breakability, Squire cannot be faulted for leaving New Zealand in favour of Japan's riches after the World Cup.
Even at the age of 28, the time appears right to cash in while he can.
Hopefully though, from an All Blacks perspective, his dominant form against the Waratahs is just a start and can be complemented by a healthy frame.
There is little doubt a fit Squire changes the dynamic of the All Blacks loose forwards.
Super Rugby reversal
Remember the beginning of the season when Australian sides made a promising start?
How different the picture looks now, with just one side, the Brumbies, reaching the playoffs.
That is all Australia deserves, too, after the Rebels shipped 125 points - and scored eight - in the final two rounds against the Crusaders and Chiefs. A Quade Cooper meltdown in the final match sure didn't help their cause.
Rebels coach David Wessels went as far as calling his team soft. That's a fair reflection of his side's underbelly after they won two of their final nine games.
Collectively Australia improved to win five of the 16 trans-Tasman derbies this year. That's two more than last year, and much better than the 25 regular season defeats they suffered in the embarrassing 2017 season where they went without one win against New Zealand opposition.
Undoubtedly, though, they have been helped by the mass rotation of All Blacks in World Cup year.
Axing the Force has strengthened the pool of players for the four remaining Australian teams. But the end of this season proved there is still a long, long way to go before they can be considered genuine Super Rugby threats again.
Lomax to the Canes
Tyrel Lomax to the Hurricanes from the Highlanders on a four-year deal may not generate the same headlines as Beauden Barrett to the Blues. But as a piece of business, it is almost as valuable.
Lomax is a lock for the long-term future of the All Blacks front row. And at 23, he has huge potential growth yet. His return home – he grew up in Wainuiomata – instantly improves the Hurricanes' weak spot, their tight five.
Tighthead props anchor scrums and the Hurricanes now have one they can build their pack around.