Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Read measures up against best

No 8 should be a shoo-in for IRB Player of the Year.

Kieran Read has delivered against the toughest oppostion. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read has delivered against the toughest oppostion. Photo / Getty Images

Perfection has been the quest for the All Blacks in 2013. The elusive perfect test may forever stay beyond them, but overnight they should have clinched the perfect season, and be hoping Kieran Read is anointed as the perfect player later this week.

As much as it has been the year of the All Blacks, it has been the year of Read. He's put one foot in the pantheon this year. If he isn't already the greatest All Black No 8, he will be in time.

He brings all the abrasive qualities of Buck Shelford - some of that steely edge, too, and desire to lead. His passing game has elements of Zinzan Brooke to it and he's as mobile, rugged and intuitive as Brian Lochore.

So much of Read's game is built on his ability to be in the right place, and it's almost magical how he pops up as the second-last receiver, seemingly only just having cleaned out a ruck.

His perfect year, the All Blacks hope, will be acknowledged this week by him being named IRB Player of the Year.

If he doesn't win it, the IRB should just pack up and not bother with these awards. Credibility will be zero if the All Black No 8 - who has been nominated alongside Ben Smith, Leigh Halfpenny of Wales, Eben Etzebeth of South Africa and Sergio Parisse of Italy - doesn't win.

Should the All Blacks be victorious overnight, they will complete not only the perfect season but a Grand Slam of sorts as well.

So far this year they have beaten the sides ranked numbers two, three, four and five in the world. Ireland, until last week, were actually number six before Wales sneaked past them.

Their unbeaten run includes four wins against France (world ranking 5), two each against South Africa (2), Australia (4), Argentina (10), and victories against England (3) and Japan (14).

With the exception of Japan - which was branded a development test - the "easiest" games for the All Blacks this year were against Argentina. Easiest by ranking, but easy? Hardly. The Pumas were tough to break in both Hamilton and La Plata - seriously tough.

The scheduling means the All Blacks play 10 tests - including this morning's clash with Ireland - in a 14-week period.

This is all highly relevant for the judges. Read has delivered consistently excellent performances against the best: against the toughest men, in the most pressure-filled, high-intensity occasions.

He was the star of the Johannesburg classic. He was the man running strongest by the end of the epic battle against England. It was Read who drove through the soft underbelly of the Springbok pack at Eden Park. He's faced the best and outplayed the best - there have been no soft opponents for him to distort the picture.

As All Black coach Steve Hansen, said: "Reado should be named the player of the year, if they're doing their work right. He's had an outstanding year and he's probably the best player in the world at the moment."

Halfpenny has been excellent - but his crowning moment was against a Wallaby side who were in disarray. If he'd kicked the Lions to victory against the Boks or All Blacks, then his case would be strong.

The Welsh itinerary has been lighter and easier too - tests against Scotland, Italy, Tonga and Argentina.

The judging in the past has been erratic and hard to understand. Daniel Carter winning last year ahead of Richie McCaw? McCaw winning in 2009 ahead of Brian O'Driscoll? Shane Williams winning ahead of Carter in 2008? The list goes on.

It doesn't always make sense, but 2013 should be a doddle for the judges.

- NZ Herald

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