Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Kieran Read's composed captaincy vital for All Blacks

All Blacks captain Kieran Read taking on his Wallabies opposite Stephen Moore. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks captain Kieran Read taking on his Wallabies opposite Stephen Moore. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Of the five tests played so far in the post-Richie McCaw era, the 29-9 victory in Wellington is arguably the one that has done most to signal the composure and effectiveness of his successor, Kieran Read.

With the Wallabies intent on disrupting all aspects of the game, Read and his team were challenged to somehow deal with the off-the-ball nonsense and yet continue to play the style of rugby they wanted.

It was a situation he and the rest of the leadership group managed with some credit. The All Blacks mostly managed to retain their discipline and focus: they had periods where they got drawn into needless physical exchanges and lost their rhythm as a result.

But the result and the domination they enjoyed in regard to possession and territory were ample proof that whatever was happening on the periphery, the All Blacks kept to their core business.

"It was a great game for us from that point of view," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. "When you lose all that experience [after the World Cup] and then you won and you win well as we did in the first test it is pretty easy to be a leader and stay on task and cope with things.

"But last night there were lots of distractions and I thought we came through it pretty well from a leadership point of view both with Kieran [Read] and Bender [Ben Smith] as vice captain and the rest of our leadership group stayed solid. They stayed on task. They got flustered from time to time themselves and I guess as a team we did, but we will learn from that.

"You can sit back and say right what caused me to be distracted in that moment and what would I do if I had my time over again? So it was a good learning experience for us."

The poise and calm shown by Read was in stark contrast to the constant agitation shown by Wallabies captain Stephen Moore. The All Blacks captain appeared to recognise that referee Romain Poite was under significant pressure trying to keep the game in an even keel.

The constant scuffling and flare ups threatened to boil over on several occasions and there was so much activity off the ball that the referee was being pulled as hard away from his core role as the players.

But while Moore wanted to challenge every decision, Read was wary. He held back, picked his time to ask if he could have a word and smartly emphasised that he didn't feel his team were ever the aggressors in the ugly exchanges - more that they were being reluctantly forced to defend themselves.

It was, in the end, a night that saw Read take a big step forward as a strong and charismatic leader.

There were times last year when if felt like the All Blacks would be facing an impossible task trying to replace the calm and skilled leadership of McCaw.

There's a long way to go yet before Read can be considered in the same category but the signs are promising.

- NZ Herald

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