WELLINGTON (AFP) – Piri Weepu admitted on Tuesday his axing from the All Blacks came as a shock but vowed to knuckle down and reclaim his New Zealand jersey.
The 71-Test veteran was a surprise omission from coach Steve Hansen's 28-man squad named on Sunday for the Rugby Championship, with his place taken by 21-year-old TJ Perenara.
Weepu, who will turn 30 next month, said he was disappointed, feeling he had played well with Super 15 outfit the Auckland Blues after facing criticism for a lack of fitness in the 2012 season.
"I feel like I probably played one of the best campaigns I've had in a long, long time," he told The Dominion Post newspaper.
"I'm pretty happy about that because I worked really hard in the off-season... it is a bit disappointing I didn't make the Championship."
Hansen said Weepu's fitness was not a factor in his omission, instead pointing to the half-back's inability to lift the pace of his game to match the All Blacks' plans for a speedier, high-octane brand of rugby.
Hansen has not ruled out Weepu making a comeback and the player said he still had the "fire in the belly" needed for international rugby.
"It's just about working with the right people, having the right team around me. I have to have a plan in place to get to that goal," he said.
"I can only do so much. If I work my ass off and give myself a fighting chance... then hopefully that gives me a good shot."
Weepu has bounced back before, shrugging off the disappointment of being dropped from the 2007 World Cup squad to become a cult hero in the 2011 tournament on home soil.
All Blacks fans sported "Keep Calm, Piri's On" t-shirts and websites were launched in his honour after he assumed goalkicking duties when Dan Carter was injured.
He landed seven penalty goals in the quarter-final against Argentina and four in the semi-final against Australia as New Zealand went on to claim the trophy.
The All Blacks' opening Rugby Championship match is against Australia on August 17. South Africa and Argentina are the other teams involved.