Selfless Squire joins a very small club

Rugby in Focus with Canon: Liam Squire turns down All Blacks selection

It’s a very short list.

Players who have turned down the All Blacks jersey.

Graham Mourie and Bruce Roberston refused to play against the Springboks in 1981 because of South Africa’s racist apartheid regime - a stance Ken Gray had already taken in 1970.

Greg Denholm, an Auckland lawyer, ruled himself out of contention in the late 1970s because he wanted to focus on his career. Andy Haden refused to tour Australia in 1984 because he couldn't accept royalties on his book if he did.

Michael Jones wouldn't play on Sundays, effectively ruling himself out of the 1995 World Cup.

And league convert Brad Thorn told Robbie Deans in 2001 that he didn’t think he was ready for international rugby.

Deans still picked him, but Thorn didn’t budge, though he did make his debut two years later, play 59 tests and win a World Cup. It was worth the wait.

That’s about it. There may be more, someone may call me out on social media, but I reckon that’s about it (though of course David Kirk and Sir John Kirwan didn’t go to South Africa with the Cavaliers in 1986).

And we can now add Liam Squire to the list.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says Squire would have been picked in the 39-player squad to take on Argentina and South Africa before a trimmed group of 34 is named for the Bledisloe Cup tests against Australia.

That changed when they chatted on the phone a few days ago and Squire told Hansen he wasn’t ready to be back in black.

Squire is the sort of player who sees himself as bullet proof, who throws himself in the fray with little if any concern for his body. When you’re that sort of player, and you don’t feel match fit, it impacts on your confidence - and Squire’s is clearly down.

He has barely played this year with injuries and then some personal issues limiting him to just two games for the Highlanders.

Hansen said it was a courageous decision, words echoed by All Blacks great Grant Fox who is now one of Hansen’s selectors.

“At the 1991 World Cup I played with an injury, one that I’d had for a long time,” Fox said.

“In those days you didn’t want to give anyone else a chance but, in hindsight, did I put the team first? The answer is ‘no’.

“What Liam has done takes courage. One of the most important things about these All Blacks is that it is ‘team first’ and Liam has done that.

“It takes courage because he has given someone else a crack.”

That player is probably Chiefs flanker Luke Jacobson, one of four new faces in the squad along with Braydon Ennor, Josh Ioane and Sevu Reece.

Certainties Ryan Crotty and Scott Barrett are out with injuries but should be fit for the World Cup.

Of the new faces, Reece is an excitement machine - a pocket rocket Hansen called him - and Ennor’s ability to play wing and centre is a serious tick in his box for the World Cup.

Ioane and Jacobson could be short-term (for now) as Hansen will leave most of the Crusaders All Blacks at home for the test against Argentina.

That includes skipper Kieran Read. But Hansen won’t be drawn on who will start at No 8 in Read’s absence, except to agree, when he cheekily asked me who I’d pick, that Ardie Savea goes pretty good there.

This is a squad that should satisfy most All Blacks fans (except those who simply hate Sonny Bill Williams) as it reflects Super Rugby form but also accepts the pedigree and history of some All Blacks.

Halfback Brad Weber’s return is an example of reward for form as he has been outstanding for the Chiefs, especially as a leader.

Patrick Tuipulotu has another chance to impress thanks to Barrett’s injury - but he will need the coaches to change their minds from wanting three locks, to four, if he is to travel to Japan.

And it is a medical miracle to see Atu Moli back in the squad (he is yet to play) after a leg injury so gross even the toughest stomach would curdle at the photos.

Hansen says hooker Nathan Harris, wing Waisake Naholo and halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi missed out for the age-old reason - someone else was playing better.

That’s a tough call on Harris though as Asafo Aumua didn’t exactly set the house on fire at the Hurricanes.

Akira Ioane again misses out with Hansen explaining that the talented Auckland No 8 knows what’s expected of him, he just has to deliver it.

“You can only lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink,” Hansen drawled. “He needs to get thirsty.”

Ioane is on another list - those who have all the talent but not the attitude, work ethic, that special something coaches want, and which it takes to be an All Black.

That’s a much longer list.

The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.

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