Former test captain Wayne (Buck) Shelford has praised Liam Squire for speaking publicly about his mental health problems after making himself unavailable for the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan.
A day after the All Blacks revealed their 31-man World Cup squad last Wednesday, Squire spoke out for the first time after the Highlanders loose forward first withdrew from selection for the Rugby Championship in July.
Squire, who has returned for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup after limited playing time this season because of a knee injury, said he didn’t feel “physically or mentally ready for the pressures of test rugby” but the 28-year-old is available to the All Blacks as injury cover.
Legendary All Blacks No 8 Shelford told 1News it was great Squire, who has played 23 tests since his All Blacks debut in 2016, had opened up because it would encourage more people, “especially men”, to do the same.
“I think a lot of people knew he was having a few problems but nobody really knew what it was because he had stepped down,” Shelford said.
“One of the things when you have health problems, especially men, is that you’ve got to talk to people. He’s talked to the whole nation and everybody knows now. By telling the media, a lot of other men with the same problems will come out and tell out their mates, rather than hold it in.
“Then we can do something about it and wrap him up with a lot of friends and support him all the way through his journey. That’s one of the big things, with our young people and suicide nowadays, is they’re there alone and they’re not talking to anybody.
“Here, Liam has actually talked about his problem and it’s out there in the media and everyone knows, so we wrap him in that All Black brand and support him in everything he does. We’ve just got to make sure he’s okay.”
Meanwhile, Shelford said the All Blacks “can’t afford not to start” Ardie Savea over Sam Cane in the No 7 jersey when their World Cup starts against South Africa in Yokohama on September 21. The All Blacks play their final warm-up game before Japan against Tonga in Hamilton on Saturday.
The All Blacks teamed Savea and Cane together on the flanks in their Rugby Championship romp over the Wallabies at Eden Park when they retained the Bledisloe Cup. But Shelford said if it came to a straight duel between the duo for the openside berth, ” I actually think Ardie will be a starter”‘.
“They can’t afford not to start him because he’s in such good form, whereas Cane doesn’t have that form Ardie’s got,” Shelford told 1News.
Shelford, who never lost a test as All Blacks captain and was the No 8 in the 1987 World Cup winning squad, said Cane had “only come back right towards the season” after a broken neck in 2018.
“I think that I wouldn’t put a person [Savea] who’s in form on the bench. He can change a game when he comes on, but he can change a game when he’s there right from the start, too.
“[The All Blacks are] missing that real tough, go forward football. When he gets his hands on the ball, Cane doesn’t get a lot of go forward football, he gets it, gets tackled, goes to the ground.
“Ardie fights the fight, wheels out of his tackles, breaks the first tackle, sometimes the second, sometimes the third. He gets that extra five-ten metres all the time. Halfbacks want the ball on the front foot, that’s what you get with Ardie.”
The Chiefs youngster was picked to go to Japan ahead of Liam Squire.
Shelford also predicts World Cup rookie Luke Jacobson is poised for a long test career. He believed Steve Hansen and his co-selectors had “picked a good side” and a balanced back row.
“There was that one surprise from the Chiefs [Jacobson], and I rate him quite highly, myself,” Shelford told 1News.
He said the final selection of the loose forwards came down to “whether the big fella from Nelson [Squire] was going to be available or not, really more than anything else, and he didn’t make himself available.” But Shelford said Jacobson, 22, was “a very good player”.
“I rate him. He’s going to be in the All Blacks for a while, I reckon. I rate [the loose forwards] all highly. They’re all workers and, I think at a pinch, if they ever had any injuries in those positions, you can always call in the big fella from Nelson.”