All Blacks skipper's future in hands of surgeon's skill
Sporting greats never back down. A significant chunk of their excellence is their ability to face tough situations, absorb the pressure and come up with a solution.
But those two words "back" and "down" will be glowing infra-red for some months until the surgeons, All Black coaches and injured captain Keiran Read get a strong picture about his recovery from back surgery.
Injuries are an occupational hazard for all rugby players. Read is an exceptional player but no different when it comes to sporting harm.
Ankle damage, wrist surgery, head knocks and strained muscles have interrupted his career but he has powered through the rehab and 109 tests in a quality decade of international rugby.
The 32-year-old has his sights on leading the All Blacks at the 2019 RWC in Japan but Read heads into a contest tomorrow where he has to rely on the skill of others, then a dollop of fortune to get him back to his peak.
He battled the discomfort of a prolapsed disc through the latter stages of the season until the pain forced him to his Cardiff hotel room and out of the final test against Wales.
Surgery is the only remedy, a course of action which will leave him horizontal for some time before he begins his rehab.
The plan is for a complete recovery and a return to Super Rugby in the later stages of next year's tournament.
Read's excellent fitness, dedication and powers of recovery will give him a royal chance of returning to peak condition but there will be uncertainty in such a physical sport.
Usain Bolt had his issues and needed a season away from athletics to tend to back issues and Tiger Woods has been through multiple surgeries and layoffs to search for a solution. Bolt surged back and Woods is hinting at the prospect.
Read's layoff is a stronger offer to the rugby talent in New Zealand to find a No8 who suggests he can handle the demands of international rugby.
Luke Whitelock was the latest to wear the test jersey which was a remarkable achievement from someone who was not in the original tour party.
Jerome Kaino might have been expected to deputise but he injured his knee and came home.
Regular opensider Sam Cane moved to the role when Read was subbed against France but Cane's ultimate value to the All Blacks side is in the No7 jersey where his hits on the advantage line and work around the ball are high quality.
Ardie Savea has a different set of skills but has dropped a cog on the selectors' rating against the tireless Matt Todd.
Some coercion and opportunities may shift Savea into that dynamic form he can produce to give the All Blacks another option.
There's a balance to be struck and that's what the All Black coaches want from their loosies — the rugged power and speed on the open, the bruising defensive wall, lineout option and carrying power on the blindside and all-round smarts from the No8.
Other names in the No8 mix are Liam Squire and Akira Ioane but Squire is building well on the blind and Ioane is exciting but still raw. There can be wildcard thoughts about Jordan Taufua, Blade Thomson or repositioning someone such as Jackson Hemopo.
Settling on an alternate No8 is about the only positional dilemma for the All Blacks but they, like Read, have months to rest and think about how things will pan out.