Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Read fully fit and ready to lead

Kieran Read says his rib has fully healed and he is ready to lead the assault on a Wallabies forward pack which the All Blacks regard as an area ripe for exploitation. Photo / Getty Images.
Kieran Read says his rib has fully healed and he is ready to lead the assault on a Wallabies forward pack which the All Blacks regard as an area ripe for exploitation. Photo / Getty Images.

Kieran Read says his rib has fully healed and he is ready to lead the assault on a Wallabies forward pack which the All Blacks regard as an area ripe for exploitation.

You don't have to go back too far to see evidence of the Australian scrum buckling under pressure from the All Blacks - last October's World Cup semifinal at Eden Park to be exact - and although Steve Hansen and his men say they respect their opposites, the Wallabies forwards can expect plenty of attention at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday.

"You play against Australia and that's the area where you want to target them as a forward pack, and that's any game,'' Read said. "The Aussies are very smart in what they do, you've got to respect them. You can't just expect to turn up and walk over them ... It's always been tough to really dominate, especially over there, so it's a good challenge for us.''

No8 Read has not played any rugby since fracturing a rib for the Crusaders against the Chiefs in their round-robin victory over the title winners in Hamilton on July 6.

He has missed three matches, including the playoff win over the Bulls and the semifinal loss to the Chiefs, but has used the time well.

"I don't feel like I need the games to get back up to that level. It's been really good, I've been able to do a lot of re-conditioning, a lot of running and weights and they are probably the things I haven't been able to do lately. My fitness is fine and it's just a matter of getting up to test match level.''

Read has proven he is able to slot back into test mode on a diet of limited match time - such as the World Cup where he was a late starter due to an ankle injury.

He is like fellow loose forward Richie McCaw in that respect, and the Crusaders pair will form a relatively new trio with Liam Messam after the Chiefs player was picked ahead of Adam Thomson and Victor Vito.

Messam has been rewarded for his recent good form and his last outing for the All Blacks, when he impressed at blindside flanker in the big win over Ireland in Hamilton.

Coach Hansen said Messam had matured and was becoming more consistent. The No6 jersey was among the most hotly contested for this first test of the Rugby Championship.

The others were left wing, with Hosea Gear getting the nod over Julian Savea, and lock, Luke Romano beating fellow newcomer Brodie Retallick as Sam Whitelock's partner.

"I think Liam will slot in really well,'' Read said. "It's just a matter of doing what he's been doing all year - playing really aggressively and really just adding to the jersey and the team.''

For his part, Messam said the Chiefs' winning run, environment and coaches were the biggest factors in his improvement.

"I've probably got more of an edge to my game this year. I've been working hard and put in a lot of effort during the season ... I always get that `too small' or `not big enough' tag but I just try to fly in and try to hurt people.''

Hansen said Romano's bulk and ball-carrying ability got him the nod over Retallick. He said: "I think locking now is a combination. The big ball runner versus the two streaky, skinny guys, even though they're not that skinny, that combination worked better for us in the Irish series and we want to have another look at it.''

That's good news for Romano, a 26-year-old late developer who made his international debut in the third test against Ireland. It's now up to him and Messam to cement their spots in the pack as the All Blacks seek to defend the Bledisloe Cup which they have held since 2003.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith

Australia: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Anthony Faingaa, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (c), Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Drew Mitchell.

- APNZ

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