After Toulouse's astonishing Champions Cup quarter-final victory a few weeks back, a mid all the delirium inside Racing 92's deafening arena, there was an endearing moment.

Jerome Kaino is 36 years old and a veteran of 81 Tests for the All Blacks. At 6ft 5in and over 17 stone, he is also a man mountain.

And yet in the presence of Lawrence Dallaglio when speaking to BT Sport in the aftermath of that triumph, having played with 14 men for nearly an hour following Zack Holmes' early red card, Kaino's face was a picture of childlike wonder.

"My dad loved the Wasps in their golden years, he was a huge fan. I did as well. I grew up following a lot of backs, because that was where I started playing when I was younger. One of the first guys I looked up to when I switched to loose forward was Lawrence," Kaino reveals, speaking sat in the stands of the Stade Ernest-Wallon on a typically perfect day in the south of France.


"I loved the way he played, always heard his name watching internationals. I had seen him around at internationals in the tunnel, but never had the balls to go up to him and say hello. I was always a bit starstruck. But that time after facing Racing, I couldn't really hide it."

The list of rugby idols Kaino revered in his youth certainly makes up a stellar cast, featuring not only great All Blacks in Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu and especially Michael Jones, but also Chester Williams and Keith Wood.

Now at Toulouse, Kaino lines up alongside several players who will have watched him in awe as they grew up. He is the figure that France's promising generation led by Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack turn to for leadership and experience. Games such as that madcap quarter-final in Paris, and Sunday's against Leinster, are exactly why he was signed.

"That is what finals rugby is all about, those close finishes. What a stadium to do it in as well. That atmosphere sits right up there for me, I don't think I have been part of a club game with a crowd who were that vocal. It was unreal.

"It has been great to try and bring some solid systems to the club. One thing that has been great about the coaches is that they do not want to lose that brand of rugby, that flair. We have guys like Cheslin Kolbe who can create something out of nothing. I am glad he is on my side, because he is a tricky customer to try and catch even in training."

He already rates Dupont, still just 22, as one of the best scrum-halves he has played with, high praise considering his time with Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara in New Zealand.

Kaino could have certainly ended his career back home. There were not as many offers from clubs in Europe as you might imagine for a double Rugby World Cup winner, given his injuries and age. The options in France came down to two clubs, Toulon or Toulouse. On the advice of friends who had played for the four-time European champions, he opted for the latter, hoping he could stay healthy.

"The clubs that were looking for a loose forward if they were looking closely at me would not be impressed with the way I was playing. I was definitely trodding around like a 35 year old. I always knew what I was capable of and just needed to make sure I was injury free. I would have been happy to finish my career in New Zealand. But I was very lucky that Toulouse took a chance on me.


"The family have loved it. My wife is half French, from Rouen, so to come over here and show the kids where their grandparents are from and to experience Spain, Biarritz, both coasts, they have loved it. The kids have really enjoyed the transition, and as long as they are enjoying it my job is a lot easier because everyone's happy."

Toulouse's Jerome Kaino celebrates. Photo / Photosport
Toulouse's Jerome Kaino celebrates. Photo / Photosport

Even someone with as many years under his belt as Kaino has needed time to adjust to life in France on the field, viewing the playing style as the complete opposite of his time with the Blues and All Blacks. Here, flair comes before structure, unlike back home where "everything is very structured, quite black and white, and then you go off your instincts".

The start of the Super Rugby season in February and the All Blacks tour to Europe last autumn naturally made Kaino nostalgic. "I definitely missed it, the thrill of international rugby. That will not go away for a long time."

Both of those feelings have since settled, helped no doubt by Toulouse's rampant success both in the Top 14 and Europe and Kaino's role mentoring the thrilling young talents that have made the club competitive again, including Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

He has certainly opted for a milder approach to getting his message across than the late, great Jerry Collins chose when Kaino first emerged as an All Black back in 2004.

"Once, I did not set my alarm and walked in to a meeting on time, but when you are a young player if you are five minutes early, then you are late," Kaino recalls, a smile crossing his face. "He told me to sit next to him and when I did, I just felt this slap on my head! That was one of many. Definitely one of the memories I cherish in that All Black environment was being around Jerry. I have more of a softer approach."

Top of the league in France and through to a first Champions Cup semi-final since 2011, Toulouse find themselves on the cusp of another major title.

Kaino's wisdom will matter more than ever in Dublin on Sunday. Both he in his new life in France and Toulouse are thriving.

"We definitely believe. Our coach, Ugo Mola, spoke to us just before training and said a lot of people would doubt this team, but the most important thing is that we need to believe we can go there and get a result. This is our final. There is no next week for us."