Kaino sacrifices plenty to get his 50th test cap
Mid-way through a conversation about Jerome Kaino, John Kirwan poses a question about money. Or, more specifically, how much of a pay cut would you prepared to take - even if it was for a job you loved?
Last year Blues coach Kirwan, along with All Blacks boss Steve Hansen, negotiated to bring Kaino back from Japan, knowing they couldn't seduce the loose forward with the sorts of numbers that lit up his contract at Toyota Verblitz.
When Kaino left New Zealand in 2012 he did so knowing he was going to be paid around $800,000 by his new Japanese club.
A massive drop in salary was imminent if he was to return to New Zealand.
While Kaino certainly won't be shaking the piggy bank if his washing machine breaks down in the immediate future - he's probably still earning around $300,000 here - such a dramatic plunge in salary is never easy for anyone's ego or accountant to manage.
Kirwan puts it this way: "People say ‘well they earn a lot of money (in New Zealand)' but that's not the point. The point is that if you are earning $5 and you come back to do something for $2 it is a huge sacrifice in anyone's language.
"And while that's easy for you to say, try it. You know what I mean? Ask anyone to do it; anyone in any walk of life to take an unbelievable pay cut. It's an incredible sacrifice to make for the two teams that he loves."
When Kirwan flew to Japan to meet Kaino last July he said the figures on the new deal were never discussed.
"It was all about coming back; when we did our negotiations we never even spoke about it."
Rarely do ex-internationals migrate back to New Zealand and march back into the All Blacks.
Brad Thorn made a successful transition back to rugby after then Crusaders coach Robbie Deans lured him back from the Brisbane Broncos in 2008 and Tamati Ellison swooped back from Japan to represent the national side in 2012.
Graham Bachop also forced his way back for the 1995 World Cup after a period in Japan.
When Sonny Bill Williams makes his return next year, the All Blacks' welcome mat is certain to be unfurled - but history is not littered with such cases.
Kaino slowly eased into his work with the Blues, and when he eventually got his big wheels spinning, he was certain to be picked for the England series.
But Kaino, who earned his reputation as an enforcer of the All Blacks pack in to the No 6 jersey, must have wondered where was going to fit in. That became clearer when Kieran Read suffered another concussion.
Tonight Kaino, 31, will play his 50th test for the All Blacks in his second consecutive start at No 8. Striking this milestone seemed unlikely after Hansen failed to persuade him to remain in New Zealand after the World Cup.
"No, I never thought it was realistic," Kaino said. "Even a couple of years ago when I was in Japan I didn't think 50 would have been possible - especially with the depth they have here and the state that my shoulders were in."
Kaino reckons his shoulders are fine now; he had surgery before he left Auckland in 2012 and the less-intense Japanese club competition enabled him to preserve his body.
He is now committed to the New Zealand Rugby Union until next year's World Cup and when Read recovers he will challenge his friend Liam Messam for the No 6 spot.
Messam has been a rock for Hansen since he began building his legacy as the new All Blacks coach and the latter may still feel some loyalty to the tough Chiefs' servant.
During that period, while watching the All Blacks on TV inside his Japanese apartment, Kaino wondered why he had left New Zealand.
"Yeah, there were a couple of times when I regretted my decision, but I had to back my decision and go with it because my family were enjoying it.
"But there were a couple of times when I thought ‘damn I could have been a part of that' and ‘what if"?"
Kaino's re-integration was so seamless he was one of the best in a lacklustre All Blacks performance at Eden Park last weekend.
His display at No 8 and ability to control the ball at the back of the scrum, something Hansen believes he does better than anyone else in New Zealand, has assisted in solving the problem of depth in that position.
Victor Vito, Richie McCaw and Messam can also play No 8 and Luke Whitelock is being looked at by Hansen as back-up for Read. Kaino has changed this picture and for the better.
On the training field Kaino isn't a loudmouth, says Kirwan.
But players know that when he speaks, it's time to tune in. He doesn't rant or have tantrums, but he expects things to be done properly.
"He'll stop things, just look at people and say a couple of words," Kirwan noted. "And that is enough. He has an aura about him - of intimidation."