All Blacks captain Kieran Read has described himself as 100 per cent fit as he continues his rehabilitation from wrist surgery ahead of his biggest year in charge of the national team.
The 31-year-old, who has played 97 tests and, continued fitness permitting, will bring up three figures in the third test against the Lions at Eden Park in early July, should be jumping out of his skin when he is finally given the green light to play for the Crusaders this season.
Read went under the knife late last year, so his extended break - he hopes to play his first game for new Crusaders coach Scott Robertson in round seven of the Super Rugby competition in mid-April - has been designed to ensure he fully recovers from the rigours of last year and to prepare for those of 2017.
All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock will captain the Crusaders this season.
Last year was Read's first in charge of the All Blacks after Richie McCaw's post-World Cup retirement and it was a successful one, the only blemish being the defeat by Ireland in Chicago in November. Before heading on the Northern tour he told the Herald following a clean sweep of Wales and the Rugby Championship that the continued run of success after the departures of veterans McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu had come as a minor surprise.
Then of course came the monumental victory by the Irish, the first in a century of trying against the All Blacks, which forced the team and coaches to take stock of their preparation and mentality in the United States before they responded with a victory in the rematch in Dublin a fortnight later.
It was an exercise in self-reflection which coach Steve Hansen will hope helps the team this year as he prepares for the Lions' visit in June.
Read, for one, can hardly wait -- an attitude due probably to the fact he has become sick of running laps by himself up and down the Crusaders' Rugby Park pitch as for the uniqueness that a Lions tour represents.
"A Lions tour, alongside the World Cup, is probably one of the biggest things to be a part of for a rugby player," he said. "I'm really excited by that challenge.
"Hopefully the fans really get stuck in and recreate that atmosphere that we had five or six years ago at the World Cup. It created something that was really special in New Zealand and we've got that opportunity again to turn this into something that's pretty awesome to be a part of."
His and his fellow All Blacks' availability for the Crusaders for the team's June 10 match against the Lions in Christchurch -- a fortnight before the first test at Eden Park -- remains to be seen, he said.
"Most of the All Blacks will be available for us because it's a few weeks out from the test. It's a great opportunity but we've also got to look at the guys in our squad, it's a pretty awesome opportunity for our players who aren't going to make the All Blacks, or any international team, to play a high-calibre team like the Lions.
"I'm not too sure personally. If I need some footy I'll probably be wanting to play it. Obviously I have to see how I come back and get into the swing of things."
Speaking in Auckland yesterday at the New Zealand launch of the Super Rugby competition, which starts next Thursday when the Blues play the Rebels in Melbourne, Read said he had enjoyed the change in approach of coach Robertson, who has taken over following the eight-year reign of Todd Blackadder.
The seven-time champion Crusaders, who haven't won a title since 2008, open their season with a match against the Brumbies in Christchurch a week on Saturday.
A major focus would be winning the tough derby matches, Read said.