Kurt Baker has opened up about his shock omission from the New Zealand sevens squad to compete at the Rio Olympics, suggesting a personality conflict with coach Sir Gordon Tietjens may have played a bigger role than on-field form.
"I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to work out I played every tournament this year and played more minutes than anyone else," Baker told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB.
"I definitely challenged him on certain issues. I think that's healthy in a rugby environment."
Baker, along with All Black Liam Messam, were the two key talking points of the New Zealand squad named last Sunday and the rugby community appeared more surprised by Baker's omission then Messam's.
Highlanders forward Joe Wheeler, a former teammate of Baker, took to Twitter saying: "I'm no expert and have never played the game but Sir Gordon has had an absolute blowout!" Wheeler's Tweet was 'liked' by a number of high profile New Zealand players including Aaron Smith, Marty Banks and Jason Emery.
Baker said he was "peeved" by the situation.
"I felt a bit used during the season," he said. "I just think sometimes there is a bit of division between what the players think and what some of the management think."
Baker said it was disappointing the All Blacks didn't commit to the Olympic programme and suggested the current environment may be a factor in that.
"Yeah, I think it's quite sad those guys didn't feel comfortable in the sevens environment."
Karl Te Nana, a multiple Commonwealth Games gold medallist for New Zealand and one of the country's best sevens players, said he couldn't fathom the decision to drop Baker.
"I feel for him. I thought he'd done enough to warrant selection. He's our best stand-off and a huge piece that is missing from our line-up," Te Nana said.
"Kurt spoke about challenging Gordon Tietjens and I know, having played for him and captained for him over a long period, you have to choose your battles. I think with Kurt challenging Tietjens in front of teammates is probably not the place to do it."
Tony Veitch talks to Karl Te Nana:
Te Nana admits rumours have been swirling around for a number of months about a fractured sevens environment, which may have impacted on New Zealand's star All Blacks not committing to Rio.
"That's disappointing to hear, and our ethos on why the 15s guys would always like to come back is because of that environment.
"I mean, if the players are butting heads with the management and the 15-a-side guys say that, it's pretty disappointing."
Te Nana believes not picking Ben Smith, who was made available to Tietjens after the June series against Wales, is another big mistake.
"I'd love to have Ben Smith any day of the week. Five weeks is probably long enough for him to be introduced to the sevens campaign. With him and Kurt Baker, you would have a pretty good first-five combo."
Meanwhile, Sir Gordon Tietjens has responded to Baker's disappointment, dispelling the rumours and offering his explanation for excluding the veteran.
Tony Veitch talks to Sir Gordon Tietjens:
"Going to Rio with that best team, the fittest team, is really important to me," Tietjens said.
"I've always been a fan of Kurt Baker. I gave Kurt a lifeline this year once he missed a Super Rugby contract, I brought him back into our environment. But his form has also dropped off due to his injuries. His injuries really concern me."
Tietjens also wanted to remind punters that Baker could have had an 80 per cent chance to play at Rio if he had gone as the All Blacks Sevens' 13th man.
"I named Kurt as the 13th man to go to Rio. Kurt could have come to Rio if he had got through all the trainings. Kurt elected not to be that 13th man."