Kieran Read will become the second most capped All Blacks captain of all time when he steps on to the Tokyo Stadium pitch against Wales on Friday. It will be his 52nd test as skipper and 127th in total. He’s also ready to leave it all behind and allow someone else to have a go.
“I’m ready to leave, yeah,” Read said today ahead of the World Cup bronze playoff final as he prepares to overtake Sean Fitzpatrick to sit behind only the incomparable Richie McCaw. “I’ve had my time in the jersey. I’ve given it my all and it’s time for someone else I guess when they step in next year.
“It will be hard, it’s what I’ve known for a number of years now, but it’s got to the point where your mind might be willing but you’re body’s saying ‘no, you’re not doing this too much longer’. It’s been great, a real pleasure, an honour. I’m just so grateful to have been part of this team for a number of years.”
Read, 34, one of the nation’s best skippers behind McCaw (110 tests as captain in 148 tests), has yet to officially announce what he intends to do next, but it’s highly likely he will return to Japan to represent Toyota Verblitz, a club All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will also be involved as Hansen admitted today.
The pair’s link with the club has been an open secret in rugby circles for much of the year, but England coach Eddie Jones prematurely announced Hansen’s role after his side’s 19-7 semifinal victory over the All Blacks last weekend. “Yeah, thanks Eddie,” Hansen said today. “I’m not actually coming to Japan to coach that team – I’ve got another job with that team which I’ll talk about another day unless Eddie mentions it at his press conference again.”
For Read and Hansen, who allowed himself a smile when uttering the above, the end is near and according to the coach his most senior player has distinguished himself in this week of all weeks after the crashing disappointment at Yokohama Stadium. If anyone has had to dig deep in order to find something to play for this week it’s Read, a man close to tears only a couple of days ago as he reflected on his first defeat in a World Cup match.
Read made his All Blacks debut back in 2008 and has evolved his game as his body and the team’s tactics have evolved. He showed enormous resolve to come back from surgery on a back issue that may ended his rugby career and it’s probably not surprising, that, having given so much to the team, he is ready to move on.
“He’s a special player and I’ve been lucky enough to work with him for a long, long time,” Hansen said. “We identified early that he would be the next leader after Richie. He would have lead in a lot more games but for a guy who played 148 test matches – flankers aren’t meant to do that.
“He himself played a lot of rugby in a position that’s tough. He’s charismatic, the boys love him, the management all love him. There’s a huge amount of respect for him. To come back from where he was with his back – people won’t understand just how hard that was.
“He was really driven to do well at this world cup and have the team do well. I think you can see the hurt when he’s spoken since. But at the same time he’s got up and led really well this week. That shows his character.”
It has been a “weird few days”, according to Read, who admits he probably won’t watch the World Cup final between England and South Africa on Saturday night. He and his teammates and the rest of the management group are likely to be toasting their final days together at precisely that time.
“To be honest it’s a pleasure to play in this team,” he said. “I’ve loved every moment that I’ve had. I might as well enjoy my time, it’s my last week with some good mates.”