Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Impressive Kaino creates a dilemma

All Blacks No8 Jerome Kaino's explosive work at the collisions didn't come at the expense of his ability of cover the ground. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks No8 Jerome Kaino's explosive work at the collisions didn't come at the expense of his ability of cover the ground. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Jerome Kaino solved a problem for the All Blacks in Auckland and now, following a huge performance at Eden Park, he's created a problem for later in the series.

Kieran Read looks in doubt again for the second test on Saturday, but when the reigning IRB player of the year does return, what then is Kaino's fate? Will he slip to the bench or be rewarded with his preferred No6 jersey?

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It would be a big call to leave Kaino out after making an exceptional return to test football. But then again, it would be tough on Liam Messam for him to give way given the consistency and quality of his performances throughout last year.

Messam was adequate rather than poor at Eden Park. His mistake in letting England No8 Ben Morgan charge down the blind shouldn't overly taint his performance.

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This is the dilemma the selectors face: the incumbent went okay and has plenty of good runs on the board, but Kaino, by some distance, was the pick of the All Black forwards. He did everything that was asked and more; his explosive work at the collisions didn't come at the expense of his ability to cover the ground.

He was the man who led the chase from an Aaron Smith kick to catch England fullback Mike Brown on his own line; and he was the man who was again first on the scene after another Smith kick in the second half that would have yielded a try had it not been for an unfortunate fumble.

His performance was an eight out of 10, maybe even a nine, while Messam was a six. The bigger question again is - do the All Blacks want to be without Kaino's explosive ball carrying and destructive tackling against an England pack who will no doubt introduce the 126kg Billy Vunipola to the mix this week?

"I was very nervous before the game," he confessed. "But the structures and preparations that Steve [head coach Hansen] has are quite similar to how they are when I was here for the World Cup. I didn't have to alter my preparation too much. ... The nerves were going at about 90 miles per hour. I really enjoyed being out there and especially when Conrad got that try."

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- NZ Herald

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