Liam Squire has opened up on why he turned down the All Blacks, saying he didn't feel "physically or mentally" ready for the pressures of test rugby.
Squire made himself unavailable for the All Blacks during the Rugby Championship, and after a phone call with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, also decided he wasn't ready to be selected in the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad, which was named yesterday.
The loose forward, who would likely start at No 6 for the All Blacks if ready and available, said he would be available as an injury replacement if he's performing well enough, but revealed on Instagram his reasons for turning down a place in the initial 31-man squad.
"After what has been a really tough year for me mentally and physically, and after speaking with people I trust on whether I should make myself available again for the All Blacks, I felt I wasn't ready just yet physically or mentally for the pressures of test match rugby," Squire wrote.
"I feel I need to earn the right to pull on the Black jersey again through performing well for my beloved Tasman Mako and keep ticking the boxes there.
"As Steve said yesterday, if the All Blacks do get injuries, and I'm performing well enough, then I'm 100% available. The decision has been bloody hard but I feel it's the best one for me and the All Blacks. I wish the team every success and am behind them 100%.
"I have never been one to speak a lot publicly so I hope people can respect my privacy and decision on this and I can move forward and keep enjoying my rugby.
"For me mental health is a lot more important than playing rugby."
Hansen didn't go into much detail on the private conversation he had with Squire surrounding the World Cup, but earlier in the year, when the Highlanders flanker ruled himself out of the Rugby Championship, he said it was a "courageous" decision.
"Mate, I don't think I'm ready to play international football," Hansen recalled of their conversation.
"I said 'okay', and we had a bit of a chat about that which I won't repeat. At the end of it we agreed and I said 'righto, that's a pretty courageous conversation, well done, you get back on the park and play some footy and we'll make a decision from there'."
Squire, who has played 23 tests for the All Blacks, had earlier this season been a late withdrawal from the Highlanders' clash against the Jaguares - and their resulting tour of South Africa - with what coach Aaron Mauger described as "personal family issues".
That followed a rough run of injuries, which kept Squire out of Super Rugby for the majority of the season. A hip injury sidelined him for the opening month, and just as he was back into full training, he tore the medial ligament in his knee.
He returned to the Highlanders in time for the playoffs, putting in a superb performance in their playoff-clinching win over the Waratahs, but was then yellow carded in their eventual quarter-final loss to the Crusaders.
Recently, Squire has shined while playing for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup.
If Squire is to return to the All Blacks environment as an injury replacement at the Rugby World Cup, it would be his final games in the black jersey, having signed a two-year deal to join Japanese club NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes after the Cup.
The only other recent example of a player denying the selectors the chance to pick him in a black jersey is Brad Thorn, a lock who became an All Black great for his toughness and exploits during, among other tests, the 2011 World Cup final.
Thorn went from league in Australia to the Canterbury NPC team in 2001 and was picked for the All Blacks' end of year tour but pulled out due to his uncertainty at whether he was fully committed to rugby union.
He ended up playing 59 tests for the All Blacks from 2003-11.