ABIW. All Black In Waiting. A term that brings with it accolades and attention, but even more in expectation.
Not that the circumspect 22-year-old, who has admitted to nerves when speaking to groups of people, accepts that characterisation or is taking anything for granted before he joins All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's first training camp of the year on Sunday.
The blindside flanker was asked to attend the same camp last year after just a handful of games mostly off the bench at Super Rugby level but did not make Hansen's first All Blacks 30-man squad for the series against Ireland.
A seemingly innocuous twisted knee against the Waikato Chiefs last July then ended his first season as a fully professional rugby player.
"I twisted it and as the kneecap popped out it chipped some cartilage off," Shields told Reuters at Wellington Regional Stadium after his side's 17-12 loss to the Chiefs on Friday.
"It was right where the knee moves and it was causing a lot of pain. It turns out the cartilage was floating somewhere in my leg up near the quad muscle.
"It was a really different injury and quite unusual, so I knew that it would be hard to come back from and I would have to put the hard work in (to get back playing).
"I definitely learnt when it was injured that it could go (belly) up at any time."
After being bedridden for about six weeks, he began seven months of rehabilitation and made his comeback in a pre-season game against the Chiefs and his play again this season piqued the interest of the All Blacks selectors.
Tall, athletic and solidly built, Shields has been touted as a possible replacement for World Cup winner Jerome Kaino, who is now playing in Japan, on the side of the All Blacks scrum.
Liam Messam filled the role last year and impressed with improved concentration and discipline in his game, while the versatile Adam Thomson is out of the reckoning having followed Kaino to Japan.
Pundits, however, attest that Shields has the 'X-factor', something that will set him apart from other players and which led former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie to suggest in 2012 he would take the next step up sooner rather than later.
Hansen invited just one specialist openside flanker, the Chiefs' Sam Cane, to the first camp and with Richie McCaw not available until the Rugby Championship in August, Shields could find himself in the mix of the expected five loose forwards selected in the squad for the June tests against France.
His biggest challenge, however, will come from the Auckland Blues Steven Luatua, a fellow member of the under-20 World Cup winning 'Baby Blacks' side in 2011.
"There is always competition, but it's always healthy. You're trying to better yourself. The better he plays, the better I play and the better I play the better he plays," he said.
"That's the way it works. We're always going to have competition for that All Blacks spot.
"It's definitely a goal for me but I have to just take it as it comes, get out there on the field and play well."
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- Steve Hansen
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- Waikato Chiefs