A few days coaching under-privileged children in Brazil has ensured the world's best rugby player keeps his feet on the ground.
All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read has returned to New Zealand on the back of an unbeaten season with the test team.
He awoke today to learn that he had been named the International Rugby Board's player of the year. The All Blacks swept the awards, gaining team of the year and Steve Hansen being named coach of the year.
Tomorrow night, that winning formula is likely to be repeated at the New Zealand rugby awards in Auckland.
Read has spent five days in Sao Paulo as part of a commitment to All Blacks sponsor AIG.
"It was a real eye-opener ... We had coaching clinics, including one with under-privileged kids," he told LiveSport today.
"It was cool trying to touch a football-mad nation. That brings you back down to earth ... that captured me a little bit."
He was amazed at the profile of the All Blacks in Brazil, which is getting ready to host the football World Cup and the Olympics.
Read did not believe there was any secret recipe for his outstanding form.
"It's fun playing rugby for the All Blacks ... that's what we've always done this for," he said.
"It's a proud moment to get the recognition [of the award]. It was a great year for the All Blacks and it makes me feel really proud.
"Awards are just part and parcel of what you do on the pitch.
"Getting the opportunity to captain the ABs was awesome. I think that gives you confidence when you are out there on the field to lead and really play as best you can."
Read said he had "grown up watching Zinzan Brooke" and it was humbling to be mentioned alongside him and other great All Black No 8s like Sir Brian Lochore and Buck Shelford.
"Everyone has their own personality and their own way they play. To be compared is awesome."
Read said there had been immense relief among the All Blacks in the way they fought back to beat Ireland and retain their unbeaten record for the year.
The "perfect season" had been in the back of the mind the longer the year went on, and that brought associated pressures.
He praised the way Hansen had handled the team.
"Steve backs his instincts and he's working really hard on his approach," Read said.
"He knows the right things to click guys in and make sure they are on the right path."
Read believed the pressures would increase as the All Blacks stood at the midway juncture between World Cups and their desire to be the first team to retain the trophy.
Improvement was the only option, no mater how well you were playing.
"You look at it, we have to improve. Over the times I've been here, if you stood still, teams will catch up," he said.
"There are always improvements in this game to be made. It's hard ... the coaches will have a lot of time on their hands to try and create something new, but the basis of what we have done this year will hold us in pretty good stead.
"We really tried to concentrate on our performance this year, chasing the perfect performance. It doesn't' always happen.
"And as All Blacks, every time you step out, the team opposite you is going to play their best game of the season."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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