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Jerome Kaino targets No.8 if Read falters

Jerome Kaino’s arm is stretched skywards if the All Blacks need a replacement for their struggling world player of the year Kieran Read.


Jerome_Kaino_2011Bruising blindside flanker Kaino, 31, is more than happy to wear the No.8 jersey if Read is deemed unready for the three-Test home series against England.

Read, who hasn’t played since suffering concussion more than five weeks ago, may have one last chance to prove his fitness this weekend.

If he isn’t picked to play the Crusaders’ home game against the Western Force on Friday, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen may be forced to overlook the IRB-voted best player of 2013 for at least the first Test in Auckland on June 7.

Several loose forward candidates would then be in contention to link with a likely flanker combination of captain Richie McCaw and Liam Messam, with Kaino probably at the front of the queue.

The 48-Test veteran says he has enjoyed making four of his seven starts for the Blues at No.8 since returning from three seasons in Japan in March.

After several bruising performances in that role, Kaino is happy to be considered for the back of the scrum rather than on the blindside flank where he was arguably the player of the tournament at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

“No.8 is a huge position in terms of leadership with the All Blacks and Kieran’s a key part of that,” he said.

“I’ll be happy if I’m there if he’s not available but there are some other guys going pretty well in that position in Super Rugby too.”

Kaino is referring to Messam at the Chiefs and Victor Vito at the Hurricanes, who are among eight loose forwards going through their paces at the second wider All Blacks training camp in Wellington this week.

The squad is trimmed from 35 to 31 on Sunday, with possibly two loose forwards to make way.

Hansen is unlikely to cut Kaino, who has surprised himself with the dizzying speed of his transition back from the relatively genteel world of Japanese club rugby.

“It was a huge gamble for me and my family to come back,” he said on Monday.

“I still believed that I had a bit of rugby in me but a nervous thing for me was where I could fit in New Zealand in terms of flankers and what the rugby was going to be like.

“In Japan you could switch on and off with what you do physically but here you just can’t do that.”

Kaino attributes his form to consistent game time at the Blues where he has played the full 80 minutes in six of his seven starts.

He says Hansen operates in a similar manner to triumphant 2011 New Zealand coach Sir Graham Henry, which will make any return to Test rugby a more fluid process.