Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Kaino returns to All Blacks XV

His outstanding form with Blues sees him rewarded with No8 jersey for first test.

Jerome Kaino on his way to scoring a second half try for the All Blacks. Photo / Ron Burgin
Jerome Kaino on his way to scoring a second half try for the All Blacks. Photo / Ron Burgin

It has taken the better part of three years, but Jerome Kaino will this Saturday give an expectant public the encore they wanted to see after he signed off with the All Blacks in 2011 as a World Cup winner.

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The 31-year-old, who took a near $500,000 pay cut to return home after two seasons in Japan this year, has been rewarded for his financial sacrifice and outstanding form with the Blues, by being named at No8 for the first test of the season.

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While he restarts his career, he'll be joined by three young men in the match day squad who would all have been teenagers when Kaino was last in a black jersey destroying things.

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The uncapped Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenara and Malakai Fekitoa have all been named on the bench - a combination of compelling Super Rugby form and England's relative lack of strength and experience encouraging the All Black selectors to be a little bolder for the opening fixture of the year.

Dane Coles will start at hooker in a sign he's trusted to take on the biggest and best packs and get the job done, while Aaron Cruden will wear the No10 jersey on the back of his world-class test performances last year.

But for all the intrigue caused by the new caps on the bench - particularly as Tuipulotu and Fekitoa have effectively come from nowhere this year - it is the return of Kaino which is the real fairytale.

Even those with implicit faith in the man who was the All Blacks' star turn at the last World Cup, would have had their doubts as to whether there would be an epilogue to Kaino's career.

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In the modern era Brad Thorn is the only man to have walked away from the All Blacks in his prime and then pick up test football four years later as if he'd never gone. But Thorn is an unusual beast - poured from a different mould - and while Kaino may have signed off as an IRB World Player of the Year nominee, there was significant doubt as to whether even an athlete of his calibre would be able to clamber back on board an All Black train that has gathered considerable momentum in his absence.

When Kaino announced in October last year he would be returning to the Blues with the aim of resuming his test career, what was an already difficult mission had become harder again: Liam Messam had come of age as a test player and Steven Luatua had emerged as a seemingly revamped, revved up newer model of Kaino.

But Kaino has pulled off the nearly impossible and made it back - albeit his route to the starting XV only opening because of Kieran Read's withdrawal.

Before Read's concussion symptoms flared, Kaino was most likely going to return to Eden Park via the bench.

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And he has made it back because he has returned more powerful, more explosive and more destructive than he was in 2011. He's been too good to leave out: he's had more presence than Victor Vito, more drive and impact in the collision and, as coach Steve Hansen knows, England will be nothing but physical on Saturday.

"We have a healthy respect for England and what they will bring to the contest," said Hansen.

"Our preparation, though limited by time, has been very good. We have concentrated on getting real clarity of our roles earlier in the week and will be looking to build the intensity levels as we get closer to game time."

All Blacks v England
Eden Park, 7.35pm Saturday
15 Israel Dagg
14 Ben Smith
13 Conrad Smith
12 Ma'a Nonu
11 Cory Jane
10 Aaron Cruden
9 Aaron Smith
8 Jerome Kaino
7 Richie McCaw (c)
6 Liam Messam
5 Sam Whitelock
4 Brodie Retallick
3 Owen Franks
2 Dane Coles
1 Tony Woodcock

Reserves
Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa

More All Blacks v England coverage
Kaino, Smith, Cruden vital AB triumvirate
Retallick fails to name even one rival player
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- NZ Herald

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