Crusaders midfield back David Havili looks set to play a large role for the All Blacks next month, after fellow midfielder Braydon Ennor was ruled out of the squad due to appendicitis.
The 26-year-old Havili is coming off a superb Super Rugby campaign and said he was eager to build on his All Blacks career, which has stagnated since making his debut four years ago.
Havili missed a fair chunk of last year following bowel surgery, a difficult setback given his promising start in the Super Rugby campaign.
"Sitting in the hospital bed I thought this day would never come. I had to put a lot of hard work in to get back where I needed to be," Havili said.
He lost nine kilograms in that time, and said he was pleased to be able to regain most of that weight since his return.
"It was a long road. It was pretty unclear for a lot of it. Covid happened and gave me the opportunity to get my strength back and get back into what I love, which is playing rugby, so I'm extremely grateful to be back in this environment.
The All Blacks now only have three fit midfielders in their squad - Havili, Rieko Ioane and rookie Quinn Tupaea - and while it would seem almost a certainty for Havili to at least make the match day squad, he was not getting ahead of himself.
"I'm certainly searching for an opportunity but I just want to learn as much as I can. I've been out of the environment for a long time now and I'm getting alongside ALB [Anton Lienert-Brown] to really try cement a position and just learn what he's done over a few years. He's a world-class player so the more I can rub shoulders with him the better I can be at the next level."
The All Blacks first Test of the year is against Tonga in Auckland on July 3.