Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Out of the shadow of champions

Kieran Read. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Kieran Read. Photo / Sarah Ivey

For ages the Buck and Zinny debate raged.

For many it still festers and comparisons are unresolved as their deeds recede into All Black history.

Since the birth of the World Cup in 1987, Wayne Shelford and Zinzan Brooke have been the premium All Black No 8s with a merit badge to Rodney So'oialo.

However, another No 8 is already in the Shelford-Brooke ballpark and if his development continues, he is about to surpass the famous duo's deeds.

Kieran James Read is ready to play his 40th test tonight when he steps into action against the Wallabies at Eden Park.

He is a big man and a big match player, someone whose temperament and skills have him marked to succeed Richie McCaw as the next captain as long as his frame complies.

Like McCaw, Read has struggled after a few concussions this season but a rest brought him back into focus to start the latest Bledisloe Cup series.

Read is only 26; it took Brooke years before he understood test rugby while Shelford hit the test ranks and his World Cup pomp shortly before he was 30.

Every season Read takes another step towards rugby's pantheon. His presence is a central pillar in every side he represents.

He is a crucial part of the spine every strong rugby side needs, that powerful backbone which lines up from hooker through lock, No 8, halfback and five-eighths.

Like all quality test players, Read's mind is as much a weapon as his considerable frame. Before his resumption from injury in Sydney, he blanked out any negative thoughts.

"I don't really look on it as though I am rusty," he recalled.

"I prepare for the test week like a normal test week. You don't want to be worrying about your fitness levels or how much skill work you have done.

"You just want to worry about doing your job."

He knew the All Blacks would improve from their hit-out in Sydney and predicted they would be hard to beat tonight at Eden Park, where they had not lost to the Wallabies since 1986.

The moves and All Black plans were all fine for Sydney.

It was hard to pinpoint why the side did not find its rhythm or made errors.

Sometimes if a test started that way, those mistakes compounded. The high penalty count meant there was no great flow to the match and that became self-perpetuating. "It puts the heat on us to get it right this week. We want to be playing as well as we can in front of a sellout crowd," he said.

Players were not conscious of error rates during tests, they were in the moment and focused on the next task.

But he guessed there was not the usual flow because he was not blowing much, even after his injury layoff.

Several times the Wallabies pressed but the All Blacks always felt they had the result in control.

"But it never means that someone can't break out and score a try so you have to maintain your intensity and things like that to keep them out of the game.

"I think if we can control the game like that plus add a lot more to our performance then it will be great this week."

Lineouts were evenly contested and moves shut down, while Read felt the All Blacks were able to exert some pressure in the scrums.

They had to be careful about how they attacked the Wallaby scrum without conceding penalties and needed to tidy that up.

The new-look Wallaby arrangement, without captain David Pocock and Kurtley Beale, would probably attack with a bit more verve or lack of fear.

Both sides would want to improve.

New captain and halfback Will Genia remained the biggest threat. He was the Wallabies' "best player so we try and limit his chances.

"You don't want to give him one chance. He is the world's best halfback and pretty smart as well so that is a good challenge."

On attack, the All Blacks would look to run at five-eighths Quade Cooper to try to tire him.

"It is a small way of doing that but you have to be careful that you don't go hunting those things because of what he can do on his feet and things like that," said Read.

- NZ Herald

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