Leadership skills derived from past legends

TOBY ROBSON IN ROME
Last updated 05:00 17/11/2012
Kieran Read STD
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KIERAN READ: "If you can keep pressure on teams and really apply that from the start and keep it on then there could be doubts in some teams and whether they can stick with us."

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Kieran Read's captaincy skills were honed on the cricket field, but his leadership style is modelled on two legends of the game.

It's no real surprise that Buck Shelford provided inspiration for a young Read as he came through the grades of Counties-Manukau rugby.

A quiet sort of bloke, he liked the way Shelford led from the front and let his actions speak louder than his words.

It is a style that's defined Read over the opening 56 tests of his own All Black career and it seemed fitting that his first full training in charge was conducted yesterday at Roma Olympic.

Shelford played for the Italian club from 1993 to 1995 and his photos still take pride of place on the clubroom walls.

But there's more to Read than just vim and bluster. He's a smart bloke, head boy at Rosehill College, and perhaps closer in comparison to his other mentor, Richie McCaw, the man he has been watching up close for the past six years.

McCaw recalls his surprise in 2006 when Crusaders coach Robbie Deans made Read captain during a preseason match.

It didn't take long for McCaw to come to the same conclusions as his then-coach and to realise it was not just his play that stood him apart from his peers.

"He picked things up pretty quick, which is always a good sign," McCaw remembered this week.

"He was always on the ball and because of that he earned the trust and respect of the guys who had been around very quickly.

"It was [partly] because he played well but he also had a very good rugby brain on him and knew the right time to do things.

"Those are the people you will ask, what do you think? And right from early on if you wanted to hear about something you respected his opinion."

That's because Read is thoughtful when he speaks; measured, analytical and economical with his words. He does not blurt or rant.

And that leads us back to the cricket pitch, which is where those calculated skills were first realised, and utilised on a sporting field.

"The teams I did always captain were my cricket teams. All through school I was the captain of Counties and Northern Districts age-group teams so that was probably my only brush with leadership [growing up]," Read said.

"I enjoyed doing it from the technical side more than anything else, but I didn't feel like I was a leader."

It was the same growing up with an older brother to show the way.

Rugby slowly changed that and at 27 years old Read says he's comfortable doing a role he never "in his wildest dreams" thought he would perform for the All Blacks.

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But it's interesting that the father of two young daughters doesn't see rugby as the be-all and end-all.

"It dictates a few things, being an All Black. You grow a lot, you have to deal with a lot of external pressures, which dictate the way you are, but for me I don't want that to define me."

At least not in the long run, but right now he realises his sport, and his team, are a major part of his being.

"There are different things that shape your personality but rugby has been a big part of my life, professionally for a quarter of my life.

"The pressure there I kind of enjoy. That's why you want to play here because you have those little extra things to push you . . . I think in this group here it would overwhelm you if you continued in the vein of just walking away from it [the pressure]."

Captaincy in rugby isn't new to Read, who has led Canterbury and the Crusaders, but the difference here is he's auditioning to be McCaw's long-term successor.

There was a time when that may have caused friction in the ranks, but the All Blacks are a collective and the usual skipper is Read's biggest supporter.

McCaw can recall the early days of leadership groups when he was "given a couple of cracks" at the captaincy and aided by then captain Tana Umaga.

He hopes he can help Read out without stepping on his toes.

"I've said to him: ‘You're in charge this week but I'm here to help out wherever," McCaw said.

"It's a balance. At training and stuff if he has something to say I'll let him do it, things like that, but at the end of the day we are all in the team and we all want the team to perform well."

- The Dominion Post

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