Lions tour: Jerome Kaino deftly sidesteps Warren Gatland's blocking accusations
If Warren Gatland was looking to light the fuse on a war of words with the All Blacks over allegations of illegal blocking, he would have been disappointed by their response on Monday.
Showing the sort of restraint that will serve them well in the heat of battle on Saturday night when they host Gatland's British and Irish Lions at Eden Park in the first of three tests, veteran All Black forward Jerome Kaino steadfastly refused to be drawn into a debate over perceived dodgy tactics.
Gatland reckons New Zealand teams use illegal blockers to protect their players receiving high kicks, and raised the matter in the wake of his team's impressive 32-10 victory over New Zealand Maori in Rotorua on Saturday night.
"The frustrating thing is the amount of blocking that's going on, it makes it difficult to complete attacking opportunities because there is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players," Gatland said.
Later he added: "Because it was picked up on a couple of occasions on Saturday night, they stopped doing it as much. In a couple of games we haven't been able to get up in the air [and compete] because there has been that interference."
The inference was firmly that it's a New Zealand thing, and a tactic likely to be employed by the All Blacks in the looming test series.
But Kaino, 34, who's been around the block a few times in his 12-year All Black career, was not keen to nibble on Gatland's line when he spoke to the media in Auckland on Monday.
"We can't go in worrying about what the referee is going to rule on how we play the game," Kaino said. "Within the 80 minutes it's about how fast we adapt and adjust to whatever style they bring, or how they are ruling on certain things.
"We have a game we want to play and we try to play that as well as we can. Refs have different interpretations and the team that adapts the best is probably going to come out on top."
Kaino was then asked if there was a fine line between legally and illegally protecting a team-mate about to receive a high kick.
"I don't think it's just New Zealand teams. Every team plays to fine margins in the rules. If you can play to those and protect your jumper as much as you can, as long as you are within the rules, I don't think there is any problem."
The Aucklander will earn a special distinction in this series, having previously played against the Lions in 2005 for an Auckland team that was shaded 17-13. He went on to become a test All Black the following season.
"From memory what the Lions tests were about in 2005, it was amazing. The whole country got amongst it, and also the Lions fans added to everything. It was a great time to be in New Zealand then, and it's a similar feeling this time round.
"You never think a professional career is going to last more than 10 years. I've been blessed to be around this long, and to get a second chance to play the Lions for the All Blacks will be a true blessing."
As for that 2005 matchup he played in, Kaino's memories are a little sketchy: "One thing sticks out. We did a wall move and John Afoa's try was disallowed. We would have won that game if that try had been allowed."
All Black lock Brodie Retallick, who was 14 last time the Lions were in New Zealand, was a little more hazy on recollections of the '05 matchup.
"I don't have a lot of memories," he shrugged. "Like everyone says, the Dan Carter masterclass he put on. I'm more about this series, than '05."
Fair enough, too.