Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

All Blacks: Kaino looks set to regain black jersey

Gamble to head for Auckland after stint in Japan pays off as Blues loosie hits form.

Jerome Kaino is favoured to play against England. Photo / Getty Images
Jerome Kaino is favoured to play against England. Photo / Getty Images

Jerome Kaino's calculated gamble is set to pay off this Sunday.

The bruising Blues loose forward is likely to be named in the 31-strong All Blacks squad to meet England in next month's three-test series, which will complete a notable return to New Zealand rugby.

After spending two years playing for Japanese club Toyota, Kaino has come back to the Blues and slowly regained some of the form that made him one of the best players on the planet during the All Blacks' run to the World Cup title in 2011.

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"It was a huge gamble for me and my family to come back; even to leave New Zealand," Kaino said. "But I still believed that I had a bit of rugby in me and the only nervous thing I had in my head was where I could fit in, in New Zealand, in terms of flankers and what the rugby was going to be like.

"I wouldn't say it's been easy. It's a lot harder getting up the day after a game and having to bounce back and get prepared in the week. But I've just put it down to the game-time I've been getting.

"I'd prepared myself to come back to the Blues and not get much game-time because of the amount of talent we have in the loose forwards. But I'm just stoked to be able to be starting every week."

The 31-year-old has split his time between blindside flanker and No8 with the Blues - he missed the start of the season as he finished his commitments in Japan - and his work at the back of the scrum will be of particular interest to the All Blacks coaching staff.

Regular starter Kieran Read has been limited during the past month with lingering concussion symptoms and a cold, which has put him in doubt for the first test against England in Auckland on June 7.

The All Blacks were due to wrap up their second training camp for the year in Wellington today and Kaino said the environment was similar to when he played under former head coach Graham Henry.

"I'm feeling a lot more relaxed at this camp than I was last week [in Christchurch], knowing the programme and knowing what's expected," Kaino said.

"But it's a good feeling to be back and to be part of the fold."

Kaino's versatility and ability to cover two positions should help his cause to be named in Steve Hansen's squad this weekend.

Loose forwards Victor Vito and Liam Messam, who can both also play No8, have produced encouraging efforts in recent weeks for their Super Rugby franchises.

"I'll play anywhere in the loose forwards to get a spot in the team," Kaino said.

Given the attrition rate among loose forwards, Hansen and co will likely carry a strong stock of them to meet England and Kaino will get a final chance to impress when the Blues host the Hurricanes on Saturday night.

- APNZ

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