ANALYSIS: Remember Liam Squire?
A big unit who has played a bit footy for the All Blacks in recent years, Squire enjoys pig hunting in his spare time.
When he’s not chasing hogs or rehabilitating from his latest rugby mishap, he likes to get into the action by employing his large chassis to clobber ball runners with dominant tackles and make strong carries on attack.
Squire’s the kind of bloke the All Blacks selectors like to have at blindside flanker, in other words.
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But you can’t have a conversation about him without mentioning his injuries. To catalogue them all would take some time, so let’s just get to the guts of the matter and say he’s had a heap during his professional career with the All Blacks, Highlanders, Chiefs and Tasman.
Now for the good news.
Squire, having missed the bulk of this Super Rugby season, has made two appearances for the Highlanders in their final regular season games against the Waratahs and the Bulls.
His most recent appearance in the No 6 jersey lasted 49 minutes against the Waratahs at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill last Friday night.
Squire trotted off when the Highlanders led 42-7 and watched from the sidelines as they closed out the game 49-12 to earn themselves the right to play the Crusaders in the quarterfinal on Friday night.
Here’s a look at how he performed.
SLOW BURNING FUSE
It took 15 minutes for Squire to make one of his trademark busts, and when he did it was a decent one.
And, eventually, it led to a try. The Highlanders won quick ball off a lineout on halfway, and Squire, who was stationed in the midfield, was soon in possession.
He was only going to do one thing wasn’t he?
He quickly got his pistons churning and, unfortunately for Mack Mason, picked out a target in the Waratahs’ defensive line. There was only going to be one winner from that one confrontation, and the Waratahs No 10 Mason was left to impersonate a Southland swede as Squire accelerated 30m downfield.
Nineteen phases later the Highlanders had another try, this one to lock Tom Franklin.
MORE TO COME
Two minutes before halftime Squire got another bite of the cherry and, again, it came off a lineout.
This time he ran towards Waratahs right wing Cam Clark, getting the Highlanders on the front foot and eventually the movement led to Teihorangi Walden scoring in the 10th phase and the locals went to the sheds with a 42-7 over the shambolic Aussies at the break.
AND WHAT ELSE?
With the Highlanders electing to use Luke Whitelock and Franklin as their preferred lineout options, Squire was required to either remain in the backline or provide muscle in support.
Often being stationed on the right edge in second-phase play meant he was mostly used to shunt opposition bodies out of rucks down that channel. As you would expect, he didn’t shirk those duties.
GUARDING THE BLINDSIDE
Clark must have wondered if he had upset Squire, given the pair clashed, again, in the 43rd minute. This made your eyes water.
Squire came off the side of the scrum and plastered Clark in a tackle. To be fair to the New South Welshman he didn’t flinch, and was quickly back to his feet.
Clark may have also taken some satisfaction to see Squire shake his left shoulder following the impact.
With typical aggression Squire joined a maul as the Highlanders kept a Waratahs player upright and won a scrum. He hit it with some velocity.
Then it was curtains. Shannon Frizell came on, and Squire’s work was done in the 49th minute. An icepack went on to his shoulder, too.
It was a solid shift from Squire. At times he must have felt he was chasing shadows as the play often moved out of his zone, but when he was required to be involved he made a decent impact.
Self-preservation is important, especially ahead of a World Cup, but there will always be a risk of compromising this when a player is so aggressive.
It just so happens that Squire is at risk, more than most, because of his kamikaze style.
If the Highlanders are to be a chance against the Crusaders in Christchurch, they need an experienced operator like Squire to lead the way.
This may cause the All Blacks selectors some anxiety, but at the moment this is all about the hunt for the Super Rugby title. For now the World Cup takes a back seat.
Squire likes to push the limits in terms of using his physicality to inspire those around him, and to create uncertainty among his opponents.
Fingers crossed that he stays intact. And that he continues to do so during the Rugby Championship.
If he does, a place in the 31-man World Cup squad beckons.
Given the loyalty the national selectors have shown Squire in the past, this race is surely his to lose. Health permitting.