Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Jerome Kaino's sabbatical on ice as he focuses on momentum

Jerome Kaino, acknowledging fans in Paris in November, doesn't want a break. / Photo: Brett Phibbs
Jerome Kaino, acknowledging fans in Paris in November, doesn't want a break. / Photo: Brett Phibbs

Jerome Kaino is unlikely to activate a sabbatical clause in his contract this year as he seeks to continue his momentum at the top level which could yet include the 2019 World Cup.

The Blues and All Blacks loose forward, who will turn 34 on April 6, negotiated a sabbatical clause when re-signing with New Zealand Rugby in 2015.

That deal ties in Kaino through to the end of 2018, but there is a possibility he could extend it to help the All Blacks defend the World Cup in Japan, although he admitted to the Herald this week that he feels his days at the elite level "are numbered".

The sabbatical clause would have allowed Kaino to take time off following the British and Irish Lions tour in June and July, and probably would have precluded the powerful blindside flanker from the All Blacks' northern tour in November.

"It's in the contract, but I'm not sure - I'm weighing things up with my wife Di and the kids and how we're placed," Kaino told the Herald. "I'm all about momentum at the moment - and at my age, I'm not sure a sabbatical is the smartest thing if I wanted to stay around until the 2019 World Cup.

"I've got to talk to Tana and the Blues coaches and also the All Blacks coaches about where I sit with them. At the moment I'm not looking too much into a sabbatical because it disrupts what I want to achieve here and also my kids - they're quite settled here in New Zealand as well."

Kaino, the Blues co-captain, played in Japan for two lucrative seasons following the 2011 World Cup, a tournament in which he played all but a few minutes for the All Blacks and was devastating on attack and defence despite shoulder injuries for which he later received surgery.

On his return in 2013, he was one of the Blues' best players under coach John Kirwan and slotted seamlessly back into the All Blacks, a transition which flourished into another outstanding World Cup in the United Kingdom two years later.

Other senior All Blacks have activated sabbaticals in order to extend their careers - such as skipper Richie McCaw in 2013, and Dan Carter a year later. Neither of them played during those six-month breaks.

In 2014, centre Conrad Smith didn't travel with the All Blacks on the northern tour in order to freshen up for the World Cup, and current skipper Kieran Read will likely take one next year after he re-negotiates his contract which finishes at the end of 2017.

But Kaino, who is standing on the brink of his 13th Super Rugby season, and will take a place on the reserves bench for the Blues against the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium, Kaino doesn't want to miss a thing.

It's an attitude which will likely find favour from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen because no matter Kaino's age and workload, the No6's consistency and hard defensive edge makes him a highly valued member of Hansen's squad.

"With where I am in my career, I cherish every moment I get in a starting position or even in the 23, whether it's the All Blacks or here at the Blues. When you know your days are numbered you want to make the most of every opportunity you can get.

"On the flip side it changes your mentality about what you want to do in the environments you're in; grooming the guys who are the next generation, who will be carrying the torch for a number of years going ahead."

That's a mentality which has changed significantly within the All Blacks over the past few decades. There always used to be a sense of protecting your spot, a "never-give-a-sucker-an-even-break" attitude.

Now, the competition for places remains, but it comes with an increased sense of co-operation, a "team-first" mentality fostered in particular by Hansen in recent years.

"That changes my mindset as well; you're a bit selfish because you want to be in that starting position all the time but you've got to help out the next generation."

- NZ Herald

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