Former All Black Liam Messam has earned a shock recall from the Super Rugby Aotearoa final-bound Chiefs.
The most capped Chiefs player of all time will have a chance to add to his 179 games for the franchise, as the team tries to negotiate another wave of injuries heading into their May 8 final against the Crusaders.
Already without linchpin Sam Cane, the Chiefs have now added Kaylum Boshier, Simon, Parker, and Mitchell Karpik to the list of those who will play no further part of the 2021 campaign.
That's seen the 37-year-old Messam and Taranaki's Tom Florence brought into the squad for their final round-robin fixture against the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday.
Messam is a Chiefs stalwart, playing 13 seasons with the Hamilton-based side between 2006 and 2018. He co-captained the side to their two Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.
After returning from two seasons in France with Toulon last year, Messam joined Waikato for their Mitre 10 Cup season, and has since been a regular face at the Chiefs' weekly training sessions.
He featured for Māori All Blacks in their game against Moana Pasifika in December, but withdrew his name for Super Rugby selection, citing his desire to spend more time with his young family.
"Just a guy of his experience and mana," says assistant coach David Hill of Messam.
"His presence, in meetings and on the field [will be beneficial].
"He doesn’t say as much as he used to when he was captain, arguing with refs and debating with coaches. But just having him there is good for the younger guys. He's the ultimate pro."
After answering a loose forward SOS, both Messam and Florence shape as selections for the dead rubber against the Blues this weekend, as coach Clayton McMillan contemplates striking a balance between continuing their steamroller momentum and allowing extra recovery for their marquee clash with the Crusaders the following week.
But Havili suggests - judging by his players' enthusiasm at Tuesday's training - that resting players may be easier in theory than in practice, particularly with a showdown against their northern neighbours on the cards.
"It would allow us to do [rest players], but we had a pile of players come in Monday morning ready to play again," says Havili.
"They're obviously enjoying their rugby and are always keen to put on the Chiefs jersey, and playing the Blues. That rivalry has got a few of them pretty excited.
"Everyone's keen and ready to play and we've got a couple of niggles, but the majority of the squad's available."
Measures are already being taken to prevent any possibility of players looking past the Blues and ahead to their mouth-watering finale against the defending champions.
"Analysts aren't allowed to put up any footage of the Crusaders or anything like that," he adds. "We'll do our best to keep things nice and focused.
"It's pretty easy once the days roll together. Just stay on task."
Hill says the senior leadership group have discussed the importance of setting the tone early.
"Our best preparation for a final is having a good week this week and putting in a performance we're proud of on the weekend and cracking on with that."
Another approach may be starting with their regular line-up, before unloading the substitute bench earlier than usual.
Either way, Hill is adamant that there won't be wholesale changes made to the starting XV this weekend.
"I don't think we're willing to rest anyone," Hill insists.
"The guys who turned up on Monday are all ready to play. It's just a matter of finding the best mix for this game."
Prop Angus Ta'avao is part of the aforementioned senior leadership group that has been tasked with ensuring the Chiefs stay on task for the wounded Blues, who will be coming off a short turnaround from their loss to the Crusaders on Sunday.
"As a leadership group, we got together with Clayton [McMillan] and talked about how we're going to frame it up and what that would look like.
"Obviously it's there and confirmed but we can't look too far ahead. We've got to make sure we nail this week and use it as a leaping board to rip into next week.
"We've just got to stay in the moment."
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