Kieran Read set to hit ton against Hurricanes
Matt Sexton ruefully recalls the day he asked Kieran Read to prove his fitness in a tackling pit in 2005.
Sexton, then the Canterbury academy manager, thought it was about time Read proved his recovery from a serious knee injury was complete.
So he stood in the Rugby Park sand pit, pointed a finger at the young loose forward and a ball and said it was time to get physical.
Sexton's invitation was like dangling a greasy chop in front of a ravenous boar. Read charged at him and seconds later Sexton lay back in the sand, clutching the side of his torso.
"I remember lining up against him and the next minute I was on my back and I had popped a rib cartilage," Sexton, who works as a New Zealand Rugby Union talent identification coach after leaving the Southern Kings late last year, said.
"So I had to stroll back to the physio to get my ribs sorted out. He was just an athlete with a lot of very good qualities.
"You knew he was going to be a special player. He has speed, could run like a back, had vision, leadership and was an intelligent guy too."
On Friday night No 8 Read, 28, plays his 100th match for the Crusaders when he leads them out against the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium.
He made his Super Rugby debut in the opening round against the Blues in 2007 but the journey to stardom began well before then.
It started when Rob Penney and Aussie McLean, who were involved with coaching the New Zealand under-19 side, invited Read to travel to Christchurch to have a look at Canterbury's set-up.
Read, who hailed from Papakura and was intending to play in Waikato, liked what he saw, headed to the Mainland in 2005 and the rest is history.
When he arrived in Christchurch he weighed around 92 kilograms. A combination of weights and nutritional programmes saw him stack on an extra 13kg as he built up the physique that would eventually earn him the IRB player of the year award.
"He always had a good frame to put weight on and when you have someone special like that in your programme you make sure they do things right," Sexton added.
"He was always going to make it. Along the way he had some great influences too, with the likes of Aussie McLean and Rob Penney, Robbie Deans and Todd [Blackadder] now. It was always going to be a meteoric rise for him."
In 2006 Read made his first-class debut for Canterbury, who were coached by Penney, against Wairarapa Bush.
The following year he was picked by Robbie Deans, who had lost half his forward pack to the All Blacks' World Cup reconditioning programme, for his first Super Rugby match at Eden Park.
In late 2008 Read made his test debut against Scotland in Edinburgh, was converted to No 8 from blindside flanker by Steve Hansen in 2010 and has since been awarded 61 caps.
Sexton said it was obvious he was going to be a big ticket item on the NZ rugby scene.
"He started hitting his straps pretty quickly. He came with a really good pedigree. It's not a surprise at all."