Chiefs veteran and former All Black Liam Messam has revealed that the highlight of his storied career so far was actually one of his lowest points.
The 37-year-old loose forward – who played 43 tests for the All Blacks and is the Chiefs' most capped player of all time – made a surprise return to Super Rugby Aotearoa this year as injury cover for the Hamilton franchise, and came off the bench in a 39-19 loss to the Blues ahead of the final.
It was not only a testament to Messam's longevity in the sport, but also cemented his place as one of the Chiefs' all-time greats.
While he's unsure if he'll ever don the Chiefs jersey again, Messam says he's enjoyed the brief time he's spent with the team this year, in particular getting the chance to work with coach Clayton McMillan.
"He's very caring about the culture, about our people and about our community," Messam told the Herald. "And he's like very straight up, honest and just tells you how it is. It reminds me of and is very similar to Dave Rennie in that aspect.
"He knows when to hit the off switch when the boys need to chill out and have a beer here and there. I've really enjoyed working with him. It's only been about three or four weeks but I've enjoyed every minute of it."
As he looked back on his career, he says, weirdly, missing out on the Rugby World Cup in 2011 was probably his career highlight as it helped keep him grounded and push himself towards becoming an even better player.
"I've had a few," he said when asked about his career highlight. "It might sound weird but it's actually missing out on the Rugby World Cup in 2011. I think that's a career highlight for me because it's a real changing point in my career.
"My whole mindset shifted and changed. I think I've never forgotten my failures or the things that have put me on the back foot. I've always kept both feet [on the ground] ... and it's made me grounded. So that's probably the biggest highlight because it sort of changed my mindset and it was onward and upwards after that big disappointment.
"I had to change the way I played ... and how I saw the game. It was sort of a career-changing moment for me."
Messam would eventually make up for that 2011 disappointment by fighting his way back into the All Blacks squad and was a member of the World Cup-winning group in 2015.
"I just use those kinds of failures and disappointments to use as fuel and never forget where I've come from and never forget the setbacks that I've had.
"Because it's easy just to think I've had a long good career, but it's actually those things that kept me going and kept me driving because it just sort of burns at you."