Rugby: Switch to lock could extend Jerome Kaino's career

All Blacks Jerome Kaino may have an extended career in the black jersey if he chooses to switch to lock, says captain Kieran Read. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks Jerome Kaino may have an extended career in the black jersey if he chooses to switch to lock, says captain Kieran Read. Photo / Photosport

Still a physical force at 33, few have questioned whether Jerome Kaino is nearing the end of his days in black.

But set to start at lock for the first time in a 75-test career, perhaps Kaino could even be entering a new phase in his illustrious career.

That's the view of captain Kieran Read ahead of the All Blacks' encounter with Ireland in Chicago tomorrow morning, a match that will see Kaino swap his usual No 6 jersey for the No 5.

That switch has been borne out of unforeseen circumstances, with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick laid low by injury, Luke Romano returning home following a bereavement and the uncapped Scott Barrett deemed too green to face the Irish.

But for Kaino, who since 2014 has occasionally covered lock for the All Blacks, it could still be the start of something.

Read, after all, has seen it happen before, notably with former team-mate Brad Thorne and former Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder. Loosies, when Father Time takes its toll, can enjoy second lives by moving into the tight forwards.

So if Kaino ever loses half a step - and right now that seems like a serious 'if' - perhaps he could remain in the All Blacks environment in a new role.

"It's his first start in a foreign jersey for him, but he's excited by it," Read said after yesterday's captain's run at Soldier Field. "He's been willing to do anything this week for the boys and he's actually got a zip in his step, too, so that's awesome to see.

"It's like Todd Blackadder, moving out of the loosies and into the forwards. If it extends his career, it could be a good thing for him."

It's difficult to imagine Kaino as a fulltime lock, although height is not an issue. At 1.96m, he's taller than Thorn, Blackadder and the regular target of Read. It's more that, in Retallick (25) and Whitelock (28), the regular starting combination is going nowhere.

But if Kaino ever loses his iron grip on the blindside flanker position, he would certainly hold appeal as a substitute who can cover multiple positions. Which, unfortunately for him, means he will have to become accustomed a little extra pain.

"His ears are a bit sore this week," Read said. "He's had a few extra scrummaging sessions to keep him working. But he's excited by the challenge and really looking forward to the game."

One challenge Kaino and the rest of the pack will face tomorrow is rather daunting. At 2.10m, Irish lock Devin Toner will certainly hold a height advantage over Kaino and Patrick Tuipulotu, but Read is confident his side can cope with the threat.

"It doesn't change in terms of how we're going to approach our lineouts," Read said. "But certainly on their ball, he's a big target for them. He takes the majority of their ball, so we've just got to be able to get up and put as much pressure as we can on him."

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