Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Captain with all the right qualities

Kieran Read has done the groundwork, now it's time to test it

Sportsmen who command centre stage in front of colossal crowds can just as easily melt in the public eye.

Out in their world of sporting authority the All Blacks are regal. They exude majesty and authority even if their nerves are jangling as hard as their opponents.

They have been working most of their professional lives to deal with the blowtorch moments where they can reproduce their skills under extreme tension. They ride the pressure and persuade themselves they are in the zone.

All Black No 8 and new captain Kieran Read is one of those imposing components in an emerging group of special talent. He demands the ball for those menacing runs off the ruck where hesitation is a curse.

He wants the ball, he looks for weakness in the defensive links while his thunderous tackling is a regular breath-removing exercise.

Read and usual skipper Richie McCaw can often be seen nattering or strolling the streets. They support each other's quest to sustain the All Blacks' position at the head of the rugby world.

That does not happen by accident. They work their tails off and then do some more.

Around those duties the captain has to keep in touch with all his squad and coaching staff, interact with sponsors, local officials and the media and speak at the test dinner. Read has done much of that with the Crusaders and is in the countdown to his first surge out of the test tunnel as All Black skipper. He has spoken to the media and completed those duties with great sincerity. But it is more of an ordeal than playing rugby.

It's probably the formality which itches at Read. If he could pull up a chair and have a natter he would be more at ease.

McCaw has been a great bridge in Read's captaincy apprenticeship; Crusaders' coach and former All Black skipper Todd Blackadder has also been a great mentor in that development.

The 27-year-old Read has found what suits him and is still evolving that style. He has worked out what suits his temperament and how best he can guide his men.

"I think the great leaders are the ones who don't work too hard on it," he said, "they just let it come.

"I have my own style how I like to lead. I want to make sure the team knows exactly where they are going and is on the same page and working as strongly as they can together."

There were always ways to improve captaincy. But a great foundation was making sure you played strongly and had the All Blacks' respect.

Like most of his teammates he has been enthralled by the history and sights of Rome. A day off spent sightseeing was therapeutic and a great entre to hard work and test preparation.

"It is pretty meditating seeing buildings that are 2000 years old and things like that. For me it is all about making sure I do my job."

His parents, wife and family are already mega proud, now it's his turn to deliver a performance to match his promotion. Teammates echo the supportive words of experienced midfielder Ma'a Nonu, who is convinced Read is the business as a leader.

"I think he will be a great captain," Nonu said.

It has been a lengthy wait for Read to talk publicly about his promotion. Now he's through that and ready to rock at Stadio Olimpico. A few years back at the same venue, Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen played where Read wants to hold similar sway.

- NZ Herald

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