Do All Blacks need Squire?
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Tasman are backing their star loose forward Liam Squire to earn a re-call back into the All Blacks ahead of next month’s World Cup.
Squire has made himself unavailable for international selection, ruling himself out of contention for the All Blacks’ enlarged Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup squads.
Injury concerns and personal issues resulted in the 28-year-old playing just three times for the Highlanders in this year’s Super Rugby campaign, and although he is now back to full fitness, Squire’s off-field problems have kept him out of the national reckoning.
At the time of the 39-man Rugby Championship squad announcement, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen lauded Squire’s self-imposed exile after the 23-test star told him that he “didn’t think he was ready” for international rugby.
Squire’s time away from the All Blacks has seen him turn out for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup, with the Mako getting their 2019 season off to a flying start, registering emphatic wins over heavyweights Wellington and Canterbury in the competition’s opening fortnight.
In his absence, the All Blacks had, up until last weekend, struggled to find a genuine option at blindside flank.
Squire’s Highlanders teammate Shannon Frizell and Blues youngster Dalton Paplii were among the first few players to be culled when the All Blacks squad was cut from 39 players to 34, while Vaea Fifita is yet to impress after two mediocre performances against Argentina and South Africa.
Versatile test rookie Luke Jacobson turned heads in his brief All Blacks debut against the Pumas in Buenos Aires, but with limited international experience, it would be a risk to take the 22-year-old to Japan next month.
Ardie Savea, traditionally an openside who can cover No.8, has instead been utilised at blindside over the past two tests, and his combination with Sam Cane and captain Kieran Read in the back row struck a chord in the All Blacks’ 36-0 dismantling of the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday.
Still, though, there remains no out-and-out option at No.6, and with Hansen set to name his 31-man All Blacks squad next Wednesday, Squire has been thrusted back into selection frame.
Five loose forwards are expected to be included in the side, with Savea, Cane and Read all certainties to make the cut.
Back-up openside Matt Todd should also be included, leaving just one spot open for either Squire, Fifita or Jacobson.
While he may again choose to not join the squad, Squire’s experience and abrasive, confrontational style of play would be enough to fast-track him back into the squad should he opt to make himself available for selection, according to Tasman co-coach Andrew Goodman.
“He’s playing well, you saw in the first week where he started for us and was man of the match he’s playing well, he’s physical around the field and doing everything right,” he said.
“We all know he’s good enough to be at the World Cup, is he’s selected and if that’s something he wants to do and that’s going to be a conversation he’ll have with those guys when they’re both ready ready.”
Squire will be expected to feature in Tasman’s next clash against Manawatu in Blenheim on Saturday – the last time he will play before Hansen’s World Cup squad is named.