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Axed Loosie Messam Told To Tighten Up

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Liam Messam. Pic: NZPA
Liam Messam. Pic: NZPA

By Chris Barclay of NZPA

Auckland, July 4 NZPA - Liam Messam's international rugby career risks following the same fluctuations of provincial teammate Sione Lauaki after All Blacks coach Graham Henry explained his omission from New Zealand's Tri-Nations squad.

Messam was missing when the 30-man squad was named to day, although his exclusion was not a huge surprise given first choice No 8 Rodney So'oialo was always going to return from a post Super 14 rest.

With captain Richie McCaw also reinstated after suffering a knee injury, the loose forwards used against France and Italy were destined for a revamp.

Messam was essentially competing with Kieran Read, who replaced him at No 8 for the second test against France in Wellington.

Though Messam had first dibs on So'oialo's position, a mixed performance during the 22-27 loss to France at Carisbrook saw him drop down the pecking order.

Messam's talent and versatility are unquestioned but the 25-year-old's option taking and error rate sees him return to the provincial competition to iron out his flaws.

The Waikato and New Zealand Maori representative, who made his test debut against Scotland on last November's Grand Slam tour, is highly regarded by the All Blacks management.

Henry made a point of emphasising Messam's contribution to the All Blacks 18-16 comeback victory over Munster -- the closest match they had on their end of year tour.

"Liam was one of the reasons we beat Munster," Henry said.

"He took the game over in the second half and led from the front."

That contribution was fresh in the selectors' minds when Messam was chosen for the June internationals after an impressive Super 14 for the Chiefs on the blindside flank.

But even then Henry said there were reservations among the coaching staff.

"Shag (Steve Hansen), Smithy (Wayne Smith) and I were always concerned and if you analyse that test match (in Dunedin) you'll know why he hasn't been selected. He missed crucial tackles and turned the ball over which cost us points," Henry said.

"At test match level you can't afford to do that."

Messam missed Francois Trinh-Duc in the lead-up to the French first five-eighth's try -- though Read and Mils Muliaina were also culpable.

His excellent support play was evident when he completed a long range break out by Cory Jane shortly before halftime but he blotted his copybook again when an ambitious chip kick and missed tackle contributed to France's second try.

"At this level you just can't afford to have guys making errors that cost you, because you're going to lose a test match," said Henry, who had met with Messam to discuss his limitations.

"We said to Liam, you've got to fix these things up. He's got things that win games, and he's got things that lose games. That's the disappointment for us -- and him."

The same description could apply to the enigmatic Lauaki -- a bullocking No 8 or blindside who has been brilliant one moment, bumbling the next throughout his 17-test career.

Henry felt Messam would benefit from playing in the upcoming Air NZ Cup as his opportunities in the Tri-Nations would be limited given So'oialo's return. Jerome Kaino and Read are the blindside options.

Tanerau Latimer is the openside back-up for McCaw, pipping Canterbury's George Whitelock, who made his debut against Italy last weekend.

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