Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Kaino - I want to be a starting All Black again

Jerome Kaino last played for the All Blacks in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Getty Images
Jerome Kaino last played for the All Blacks in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Getty Images

Former All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino, on the brink of returning home after two years playing in Japan, says wearing the black jersey again was the main reason for his signing with the Blues.

The success of his Toyota team in the playoffs will determine when Kaino returns to Auckland - coach John Kirwan is expecting him in mid to late February - and the player, who developed into a fearsome blindside flanker for the national team, believes he still has what it takes.

"It's a huge reason why I chose to come back,'' he told Radio Sport this morning.

"There's still a burning desire to play for the All Black jersey.''
Asked by host Martin Devlin whether he had a starting spot or bench role in mind, Kaino said: "When you strive to be in the All Blacks you definitely want to hop on the field and get that starting spot.''

Kaino left New Zealand straight after the Rugby World Cup carrying a shoulder problem but said his body was sound, though he admitted it could take time to get used to the rigours of the Super Rugby competition again.

"I'm probably not as strict as I was before I left but in saying that I've had the freedom to be able work on the weaknesses in my game.

"The competition I've been exposed to here probably isn't as rigorous as it is at home.

"It took me a long time to get to me where I was there,'' he said of his World Cup form.

"Obviously when I get back I probably won't be able to hit the road running and start from where I left, but everything is a challenge... obviously when I take the field next in New Zealand everyone is going to compare me to when I last took the field in New Zealand which was in the World Cup. It's up to me to put my head down and work hard.''

Kaino, 30, played 48 tests for the All Blacks after making his debut in 2006. A talented and skilful youngster, he took time to develop his hard edge but it soon became a hallmark of his game. In his absence, Liam Messam and Steven Luatua have become first and second choice for the No6 position, with Messam having the best year of his career last year as the All Blacks completed a perfect 14 victories from 14 tests.

Luatua is likely be first-choice No6 at the Blues, with Kaino competing with Peter Saili for the No8 position.

Kaino said he wasn't bothered by the poor track record of former All Blacks returning from stints overseas and trying to reach previous heights. "People have spoken about if a few times but I haven't really given it too much thought. I look at it in a case by case scenario. I'm not reading too much by what's happened in the past.''

Kaino said his family had returned to Auckland and he was living out of a suitcase, adding he would be happy to be available straight away for the Blues.

"I'm pretty happy to hop straight into things but it all depends on the structures I have to learn and where I fit into the team.

Physically I feel very good, but in terms of being up to pace of the Super 15 or internationals, I'm not too sure, I'll probably find out in that first game I play.''

- APNZ

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