Liam Squire is set to return to action for the first time since imposing an exile from the All Blacks on himself earlier this month.
The 23-test loose forward made himself unavailable for selection from the All Blacks’ 39-man Rugby Championship squad after telling head coach Steve Hansen that he didn’t think he was ready to play test rugby prior to the squad announcement.
Squire’s self-imposed omission came just weeks after he was left out of the Highlanders’ touring squad to South Africa due to “personal family issues”, as described by Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger, and he was again excluded from Hansen’s trimmed 34-man squad for the upcoming Bledisloe Cup series on Wednesday.
“Mate, I don’t think I’m ready to play international football,” Hansen recalled of their conversation leading up to the Rugby Championship squad announcement four weeks ago.
“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 hasn’t played since the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship squad was named on July 2, leaving his World Cup prospects in a dire state, with his last outing coming for the Highlanders in their 38-14 Super Rugby quarter-final defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch, where he was sin binned for a dangerous tackle on Whetu Douglas.
However, he will make his first appearance in over a month after being named on the bench for Tasman’s final pre-season clash against Otago in Nelson on Friday in what will be his first outing for the province since 2015.
His presence in the reserves adds depth to a strong Mako side, which features 16 players with Super Rugby experience, including eight from the title-winning Crusaders squad.
Squire also joins fullback David Havili and reserve prop Wyatt Crockett as one of three All Blacks in the match day squad.
If the 28-year-old still has intentions of representing the All Blacks at this year’s World Cup in Japan, which is less than two months’ away from kick-off, then this clash will act as the first step in regaining his place in the national set-up.
In his absence, the fight for the All Blacks’ blindside flanker role has intensified, with Highlanders teammate Shannon Frizell and Blues youngster Dalton Papalii two of five players culled from Hansen’s squad for the Wallabies tests in Perth and Auckland.
That leaves just Vaea Fifita and Luke Jacobson as the only two blindside specialists left in the side.
The first Bledisloe Cup clash between the All Blacks and Wallabies kicks-off at Optus Stadium on August 10, while Tasman’s Mitre 10 Cup season gets underway eight hours beforehand against Wellington at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim.
Tasman side to face Otago:
1. Ryan Coxon, 2. Andrew Makalio, 3. Isaac Salmon, 4. Quinten Strange, 5. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 6. Ethan Blackadder, 7. Jacob Norris, 8. Jordan Taufua, 9. Declan Smith, 10. Mitch Hunt, 11. Leicester Faingaanuku, 12. Alex Nankivell, 13. Levi Aumua, 14. Will Jordan, 15. David Havili.
Reserves: 16. Hugh Roach, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Blair Prinsep, 19. Isaiah Miller, 20. Liam Squire, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Tim O’Malley, 23. Jamie Spowart, Sione Havili, Fetui Paea, Tima Faingaanuku.
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