Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Kaino's aim to keep his head in the game

With loose forwards lining up for All Blacks selection, consistent work is what counts.

Jerome Kaino, who admitted to nerves before going into the All Blacks camp, says he can't count his chickens. Photo / Getty Images
Jerome Kaino, who admitted to nerves before going into the All Blacks camp, says he can't count his chickens. Photo / Getty Images

Jerome Kaino will look towards next Saturday's match against the Hurricanes at Eden Park and feel he has a point to prove - to himself more than anyone else.

After his performance in the Blues' 29-23 loss to the Sharks at North Harbour Stadium, that might be bad news for the Hurricanes, flying high after their 45-8 demolition of the Chiefs, and in particular for his loose forward rival Victor Vito.

If spending time back in the All Blacks scene has taught Kaino anything it's that New Zealand has a lot of very good loose forwards. And also that there's a need to work harder and more consistently.

Kaino was impressive against the Sharks. He was bruising but also creative, yet was disappointed in his efforts afterwards.

"I was a bit hot and cold," he said. "Against a team like the Sharks our senior players need to be in the game all the time, and I felt like there were periods where I was in the game and then I just drifted out of it. That's one thing that has struck me straight away and it's a huge work-on for me to apply myself in the game all the time."

Kaino's response sounded eerily like one of Steve Hansen's criticisms of fellow Blues loose forward Steven Luatua, an All Black last year who has been reduced to warming the bench for John Kirwan's team. After another very strong match from Peter Saili on the blindside flank, it's hard to see Luatua forcing his way into the starting line-up for the Hurricanes match.

Kaino's match-up with Vito, who was excellent at the Cake Tin on Saturday, is particularly relevant with the All Blacks in mind because both can play at No 8 and No 6. Kaino's physicality and ball control at the back of the scrum is such that he has probably got the inside running.

Also in the loose forward mix are incumbents Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Kaino, Vito and Luatua. Luke Whitelock didn't attend the Wellington camp for which the rest of the 35-man squad assembled yesterday, and is likely to drop out when the final 31 are announced in Auckland on Sunday. Of the others, at least one more is also expected to be overlooked.

"I've just got to put my head down in the next few weeks," said Kaino, who admitted to being nervous when entering last week's camp. "Being in that camp and seeing the amount of talent in the loose forward ranks, you can't count your chickens.

"Everyone's performing at the moment as well. If it comes, it comes, but I've just got to work hard and hope for the best.

"I looked at the loose forwards and most of us can play No 8 and No 6. I think Steven's the only one who can play No 8, No 6 and lock. It's a tough one."

All the All Blacks hopefuls will be using the games for their respective teams next weekend to try to improve their cases. For those in the Blues camp - Kaino, Luatua, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu and Ma'a Nonu - that could be the only tangible thing they have left as the Sharks defeat effectively ended their playoff chances.

"We're not in a position to calculate, we just need to put our heads down and work," Kaino said. "We just need to try to win every game from here on in.

"All respect to the Sharks, they're a great team and they're on top of the table for a reason, but there were times when we could have got points and capitalised but we just didn't. Our decision-making didn't help us."

- APNZ

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