Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All eyes on Kieran Read's rigid digit

New Zealand All Black Captain Kieran Read. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand All Black Captain Kieran Read. Photo / Greg Bowker

The countdown to the start of the test series with the Lions will bring greater tension than the road to the 2011 World Cup final.

That anxiety was more about Richie McCaw's foot than whether his side could overturn France and erase the memories of their shock exit four years before. Eventually the strain deepened as the minutes ticked by with the All Blacks unable to shake off their rivals.

This month's arrival of the Lions will send that pressure to another level.

The tourists will face much of the early heat from Super Rugby sides and the NZ Maori but there'll be plenty of anxiety in the All Black ranks about any further injuries and the medical reports on injured skipper Kieran Read.

He will miss the Crusaders' game against the Lions and, in his words, is doubtful for the All Blacks' match against Samoa on June 16 at Eden Park which has been shoehorned into the week before the test series begins at the same ground.

Read was told he'd need six weeks to recover from surgery on his broken right thumb which would allow him to play against Samoa the week before the opening Lions test.

In that interval, he'll have plenty of time to absorb the impact of Lions No8s Billy Vunipola and Toby Faletau and this week sounded a bit more cautious about his timetable.

"At the moment they are kind of saying you can't use it for six weeks, which is a week before the Samoa game. We'll just have to see if I push it, or let things go before that first test.

"It's the type of injury where you can push it if you want to, but that increases the risk of a re-break."

There are other complications. A knee injury to blindside flanker Jerome Kaino and a broken thumb for Liam Squire means they are marginal selections. The selectors will have to balance players' fitness and experience against a lack of match practice.

Read is massively experienced and since the 2011 RWC campaign has played 64 tests at No8 with Victor Vito, Kaino, McCaw and Steven Luatua starting 10 others in the role.

Read will know whether he should play at Eden Park. He will be fit but not tuned to the sort of peak he'd want after so long off the park this season.

After wrist surgery and four months out of the game he played half a match for his University club then similar spells against the Sunwolves, Stormers and Cheetahs before he broke his thumb.

That's a lean dossier even for a player of his 97 tests experience and ability but you sense that Read, like McCaw, has the qualities to cope.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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