Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Classy Read holds his own in roll call of No 8 greats

Kieran Read, an exceptional player of remarkable gifts, has been judged international player of the year by the IRB. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read, an exceptional player of remarkable gifts, has been judged international player of the year by the IRB. Photo / Getty Images

Whatever it takes, Kieran Read delivers.

This season he has been so influential in the All Blacks that you believe his presence is more crucial to the team cause than Richie McCaw.

When you start plying that notion or even find yourself making the suggestion you know Read is an exceptional player of remarkable gifts. He has been a constant powerhouse within the powerful All Black framework and is the international player of the year.

The IRB came to that conclusion this week and the NZRU should come to the same decision tonight when their annual awards are delivered at a function in Auckland.

This country has been blessed with great No 8s from Brian Lochore to Murray Mexted, Wayne Shelford and Zinzan Brooke, men whose deeds consistently put them at the top of the global ladder.

Read has muscled his way into their throng and is at least the equal of Shelford and Brooke who sit at the apex in the New Zealand order of merit of those who have filled that No 8 role.

Shelford brought the unyielding warrior spirit to his work where his powerful mind was stapled to his ruthless frame as he led North Harbour and the All Blacks.

There was more flamboyance about Brooke's play and a touch more margin for error but he grabbed All Black games by the throat once he felt more secure about his rank in the side.

The pair dominated the No 8 role and their rivals for a decade.

Read is making similar headway and his knack of blending the rudiments of his role to the expressive style the All Blacks are evolving has put him at the top of the global pile.

He has played 61 tests and faced a breadth of rivals and events which have primed him to produce the form which flowed throughout this season's test calendar.

Read's work has been imperious and delicate, classy and unselfish.

He does the right things under pressure, he does them repeatedly and will defend and cover with the same intent he brings to his attack. That range of work may be edging him ahead of Shelford and Brooke.

Read's surges down the tramlines and potent offloads created several stunning tries for teammates as multiple tacklers were drawn to try to shut down the storming No 8.

When defenders neglect that task or are pulled out of position, Read has the gas and power to score tries as he did six times this year in tests.

Then there are the episodes which may seem minor in tests with so much action but Read's ability to dive on a loose ball or douse a threat is equally rugby-sharp. His obstinate defence, work at the breakdown and as a lineout option add to the expanding illustration of his rugby nobility.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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