By Tom Vinicombe of RugbyPass.com
Liam Squire is back in New Zealand and, all going well, could be lining up for a Super Rugby club next year.
The former All Black left NZ to link up with the NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes in Japan following last year's successful Mitre 10 Cup with the Premiership-winning Tasman Mako.
The Top League season was called off after just six rounds, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Squire managed three appearances for the Osaka-based Red Hurricanes before he was struck down by a knee injury. While Squire has well and truly recovered from that speed bump, the extended break brought about due to the global pandemic has now given the loose forward the opportunity to deal with some other lingering problems.
"I actually injured my knee early on in the season but once COVID hit, it was decided I'd return to get it fixed in NZ," Squire told RugbyPass.
"That was nothing major but during that break, we decided I would also get my hip cleaned out. That's an ongoing injury I've been dealing with and managing for a number of years now so for me, it's a massive relief to finally be able to get my body back to 100 per cent. The downside is that it's come at a cost in that I won't be able to return to Japan."
Squire's career in New Zealand was besotted by injuries.
Having broken into the All Blacks on the back of an excellent 2016 with the Highlanders, a broken thumb sustained partway through the 2017 Super Rugby season prevented Squire from playing against the British and Irish Lions.
In 2018, Squire struggled to string together two matches in a row for the Highlanders due to frequent small niggles but was still selected for the national side. A hand injury suffered in the Rugby Championship again sidelined the powerful blindside flanker for a number of tests before he returned late on the All Blacks' European tour. In what turned out to be his last match for the New Zealand national team, Squire left the field late in the first half against Ireland due to injury.
Squire had a late start to the 2019 season – his last in New Zealand – due to the troublesome hip that he's finally set to deal with.
Despite Squire's obvious potential and high-quality performances for Tasman, the Highlanders and the All Blacks, injuries effectively kept the loose forward from ever establishing himself as a long-term permanent selection at the highest level.
The extended pandemic-enforced break has finally granted time for Squire to conquer the chronic injury that's caused problems over the years.
"My goal now is just to get my body feeling 100 per cent and fit again, which is really exciting and motivating for me because I've had these tidy up surgeries on injuries that I feel have held me back in the past," Squire said.
"Getting back playing my best rugby is naturally a massive goal. I hope to play here in New Zealand again, all going well, but I can only control what I do and that's working hard to get back to full fitness and hopefully get the chance to play again."
The New Zealand provincial competition has already benefitted this year from a raft of players coming home from overseas and the experience that someone like 29-year-old Squire could bring to any team would be invaluable. While a return may not be on the cards in 2020, next season could be a different story.