Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Kieran Read doing it for love of the game

Kieran Read in action for University in the Hawkins Premier Cup match against Linwood. Photo / Getty
Kieran Read in action for University in the Hawkins Premier Cup match against Linwood. Photo / Getty

His body probably won't be up to it, but it's easy to imagine that after Kieran Read retires from the top flight, he'd be happy enough to turn out for his local club for an afternoon.

There'd be no fuss, no cameras, no big crowds - he'd just be one of the boys, playing because his love for the game and all that it brings is enduring.

So his return to rugby this year via his University club will have afforded him more pleasure than those who turned up to watch. Read, who managed a solid 40 minutes at Linfield Park coming through well with no ill-effects to his wrist, doesn't need the massive stadiums, the big game hype and the world watching to get a buzz out of rugby.

It all started for him back in the day because he loved the shared experience - of being connected to his friends and tasked with working together towards a specific goal.

That's never left him even now he's won two World Cups and sits on the edge of 100 test caps. It's still all about being with his mates and seeing what he can do to help achieve the communal goal.

That was what drove him in his club colours today and that is what will drive him when he returns to the Crusaders this week. He'll feature against the Sunwolves at some stage on Friday night and given his experience and club hit out, it could be from the start.

There is nothing forced or contrived about Read. He's not trying to manufacture an image of himself as a man of the people. That bit comes naturally to him.

It's who he is and the more he settles into his role as All Blacks captain, the more it appears he's finding the confidence to simply be himself.

It is an unusual yet highly welcome road for a major sports figure to travel in this day and age. More typically, the modern high profile figure tends to have a public persona: a manufactured and deliberately crafted version of themselves.

The adoring masses are only allowed to see through a crack in the door and mostly it's obvious that what you see with players is not actually what you should be getting - that they are holding back or recreating themselves as something they have been told to be or think they should be.

If Read is holding back, it wouldn't appear to be much for while he only made his first rugby appearance of the year today, he's been a big part of the 2017 season already.

He's been on our TVs a fair bit, in various guises because it seems that consumer brands can't get enough of him. It's that honesty and transparency thing. He's a father, a husband and the sort of bloke who will cut the neighbour's berm - rather than pointedly just do his half.

The vibe is that he's a bloke everyone can trust and that's no bad thing for an All Blacks captain. No bad thing at all in what is shaping as one of the longest and most gruelling seasons of the professional age.

The All Blacks were already facing a huge challenge in 2017 just with the British and Irish Lions alone. But now they will play a total of 14 tests and two games.

Read's captaincy is going to be thoroughly examined. This will be the greatest prolonged test of his leadership and ability to galvanise what may be a ferociously talented side, but it is one that lacks experience.

And to lead it well, he has to play well which is, again, another reason why his increasing confidence to be himself is an encouraging factor.

He'll have trained the house down these past few months as he has rehabilitated from wrist surgery.

He'll be as well conditioned as he's ever been and as his match fitness sharpens, the expectation is that he'll build his game towards June.

He doesn't have to think about captaining the Crusaders. That job has gone to Sam Whitelock and it should benefit Read. It should see him feel freer to roam wider and to be more expressive once he's out there.

That's the bit of his game everyone wants to see more of. When he is attacking between the tramlines looking to force defenders into mistakes - that's when he's at his most effective.

No forward in world rugby has an offloading game in the same league as Read's. The next eight weeks or so are about him building his confidence to the point where he's ready to unleash all of his skills against the Lions.

The All Blacks coaches want him to be expressive, to be urgent, to be all over the field. They want him to effectively be himself and to play for the All Blacks with no more complex a thought that he's there purely for the love of the game.

- NZ Herald

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