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Liam Messam is not sure what was more emotional for him – running out at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for his 100th game for the Chiefs or the rousing haka he was met with from his team-mates afterwards.
Messam led the Chiefs out at the impressive Port Elizabeth stadium in front of a big, parochial local crowd before their 35-24 victory over the Southern Kings on Saturday (NZ time) and admitted it was both a relief and a humbling experience to finally become the first Chief to achieve the milestone.
”A couple of weeks ago I said I was just trying to get to a hundred first and it’s pretty tough to do that so when I finally got there it was a very proud moment and real humbling with all the support I got before the game through messages from people back home,” Messam said from Port Elizabeth after the match.
The Waikato loose forward, who first played for his province as a teenager against Italy soon after leaving school, admitted he was taken by surprise by the powerful haka performance back in the changing room after the game, led by flanker Tanerau Latimer.
”I didn’t expect it. I was away doing media and I walked into the changing room and all the boys were there with their shirts off, led by Tanerau.
”It was very emotional for me, especially from guys I’ve got very close to – that they would consider doing a haka for me was very special.”
But it is typical of the Chiefs co-captain’s humility and selflessness that he chose to play in this match and forgo the chance to achieve the landmark in front of family and friends at home in Hamilton a week later.
”We knew the Kings were a dangerous side and had already performed pretty well,” he said of his determination to play in the match.
Messam has in the last year carved out a starting spot for himself in the No6 All Blacks jersey and has now played 20 tests, but as a youngster all he wanted to do was be a Chief.
”For me [growing up] in Rotorua we had no All Blacks but there was one guy named Wayne Ormond who was a Chief and so as a kid growing up at high school that’s all I wanted to be, was a Chief.
”So to play a hundred games for a team I love and would do anything for it’s just real humbling and to be the first one to do it is just awesome.”
To do it at the age of 28 (he turns 29 in a week) is testament to Messam’s durability and the outstanding physical condition he keeps himself in.
Last year Messam missed his first game for the Chiefs in 91 matches, with last 58 of those consecutive matches being consecutive starts, and he hasn’t missed another one since.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie can’t speak highly enough of his co-skipper.
”We’re really happy for Liam,” said Rennie. ”He’s done a hell of a lot for the Chiefs and the fact he’s got a hundred games and there’s only been 101 games since he started, having only missed one game last year, is a pretty impressive record and a hell of an achievement.”
Rennie came to the Chiefs before last season not knowing Messam at all and said he had been impressed with him from the moment he met him.
”He’s a really passionate man, he’s really loyal to the team and the jersey and he’s one of those inspirational leaders that players respect.
”He was challenged early on last year in and around how he was playing and what his job description was and so on.
”To be fair he took it on the chin, he worked bloody hard and was really keen to develop his game.
”Considering how experienced he is and to have a guy like that who still wants to be better and is still keen to work hard on his game, he’s a great role model for a lot of our young fellows.”
But Messam believes it has taken more than just conditioning, hard training and good preparation to play 100 matches for his beloved team.
”No, it’s bigger than that. Someone up above is looking down on me and seeing I get through, so I just feel real blessed.”
Messam came away with a swollen ankle after injuring it towards the end of the match, but he shrugged that off afterwards.
”Nah, it’s not too bad. I’m just icing it up, we’ve got a long trip back to Hamilton now so I’ll see what it’s like when I’m back on my feet after we get back,” he said.
– © Fairfax NZ News