Players applaud the decision to rest No 8 Read
As the nation frets for the long-term welfare of its best rugby player, Kieran Read's All Black teammates have thrown their weight behind their coach's no-risks policy regarding the No 8's ongoing head issues.
Coach Steve Hansen reacted swiftly and decisively when Read presented "not feeling the best" on Monday morning at the team hotel in Auckland, confirming yesterday he had withdrawn the 2013 IRB player of the year from Saturday's test against England at Eden Park.
Given that Read had only just returned to the field for the Crusaders last weekend after six weeks out dealing with ongoing symptoms of concussion, this latest setback raises some pretty major concerns for the colossus of a No 8 who is right at the top of his game.
In an era when there is much greater awareness of the long-term repercussions of head injuries in contact sports, Hansen's swift action and keenness to take the decision out of his player's hands is to be applauded.
Sure, it puts the All Blacks in a little bit of a tight spot this week, especially given that Read's withdrawal came on the same day that it was confirmed openside flanker Sam Cane is out of the series with a small fracture in his knee and blockbusting Hurricanes wing Julian Savea is also unlikely to play in the series opener because of his own knee issues.
But what's a week or a test here or there when it comes to the ongoing health and welfare of Read? Remember, this is not only a great All Black, but a husband and father to a family who need him operating at full capacity in the living room, never mind the playing field.
Hansen yesterday spoke about not being prepared to take any risks with Read, but also cautioned against drawing knee-jerk or alarmist conclusions. He pointed to Read's close friend and colleague, Richie McCaw, as an example of someone who had came out the other side of some worrying head issues with careful treatment and management.
"We've got really good faith in the people that look after him - Deb Robinson down in Christchurch and our own doctor here, Tony Page," Hansen said. "Long term I'm not too concerned, but we're just not prepared risk him this week. It's just too dangerous."
Both lock Brodie Retallick, who knows a little of what Read is going through, and midfielder Ma'a Nonu yesterday applauded the decision to remove Read from the test equation so early in the week.
It takes a lot to scare Retallick, but the towering lock didn't mind admitting that back-to-back concussions this Super Rugby season had him shaking in his size 14s.
"It's definitely frustrating, but it's probably more scary, to be honest," Retallick said yesterday following a mid-morning training run on a warm and sunny winter's day in Auckland. "You're not sure when the symptoms are going go away or when they are going to return.
"You've got to be patient and wait it out and wait for them to clear because it's something you don't really want to mess round with."
Retallick said the concussion area was something all rugby players were much more aware of nowadays. "After you've been concussed a couple of times it makes you aware of the real dangers that are there and much more cautious of it.
"Obviously it's frustrating for him that he's not going to be out there but he seems to be handling it pretty well."
Nonu recalls being concussed once in his long career, though has delivered a few bell-ringers in his time. "It's not fun," he added. "It's a contact sport, and if you get your head in the wrong place or you're going for the ball in terms of collisions, it's going to happen.
"He's had it more than other guys, so it's just a matter of looking after his health really and that's the priority for him."
Nonu felt rugby had done a good job of being proactive in terms of teaching best techniques. "It's getting really physical at the breakdown, and if we can get across the safety in terms of knowing where to put your head, and the right technique, then it's going to help."
It's almost irrelevant, but the All Blacks cover splendidly for Read's absence against an under-strength English line-up. Stephen Luatua (for this week) and Matt Todd (permanently) have both been called up, though Jerome Kaino must be favoured to assume No 8 duties for the opening test.
Savea will be monitored through the week, and no replacement has been called for yet.
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