Kaino puts hand up for All Blacks No 8 spot
Jerome Kaino says he's just one of four men who would happily pull on the All Blacks No 8 jersey should Kieran Read be unavailable for the first test against England.
With Read out of rugby for five weeks and counting with on-going symptoms of concussion, a queue of possible replacements has formed during the All Blacks two training camps, the second of which began in earnest in Wellington yesterday.
After successfully returning from Japan, Kaino is on the brink of an All Blacks recall and he said he was not fussy whether it came in his more accustomed position of blindside or at No 8.
"Mate, I'll play anywhere in the loose forwards to get a spot in the team," the 31-year-old said. "I think it's [No 8] a huge position in terms of leadership with the All Blacks and Kieran is a key part of that.
"I'd be happy to put my name forward if he's not available, but Victor [Vito] and Liam [Messam] are playing pretty good as well, so it's just a matter of me playing well against the Hurricanes next week and stamping a mark on selections."
Kaino and Vito will likely go head-to-head at Eden Park on Saturday in what could be a final trial of sorts. The All Blacks squad will be trimmed from 35 to 31 on Sunday with two of the eight loose forwards likely to drop out.
Vito and Crusaders Read and Luke Whitelock are the three specialist No 8s in the wider squad, but Kaino believed most of the All Blacks loose forwards could do the job.
"You are the key link between the forwards and the backs, but with the game plan the All Blacks play it doesn't change too much," he said. "The main difference is you are controlling the ball at the back of the scrum, but in terms of lineout, kickoff, not too much changes."
The 48-test veteran has spent most of his career at blindside where he starred at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but four of his seven starts for the Blues this season have been at No 8.
He said regular and extended game time in Super Rugby had helped with what had been a tough transition after two years in Japan.
"I wouldn't say it has been easy. It's a lot harder getting up the day after a game and having to bounce back and [prepare] during the week," he said. "I just put it [my form] down to the amount of game time I've been getting.
"I prepared myself to come back to the Blues and not get much game time because of the amount of talent we have there at loose forward.
"I'm just stoked to be starting every week and some weeks playing 80 minutes and that's allowed me to adjust a lot more quickly."
Kaino wasn't sure his match fitness was up to 80 minutes at full throttle in a test match,
"I wouldn't say a test match, that would require me getting used to the team structures and being in this environment a lot longer. Test match is definitely a few steps up from Super Rugby, so I wouldn't go that far.
"I know whatit's like to be part of this squad to mentally prepare. For me it was harder being in a game and having to hit a ruck with everything you have and then having to hit the next ruck with same amount of intensity, and also within the tackles and ball carries.
"In Japan you can switch on and off with what you do physically where here you just can't do that."
Being back in the All Blacks camp had been a good feeling after what Kaino described as two "huge gambles" in first moving to Japan, and then coming back to New Zealand rugby.
"I believe I still have a bit of rugby in me."
The Dominion Post