Jerome Kaino was always going to return to the All Blacks. That much was never in doubt after he left the squad in Sydney to deal with a personal issue.

What's still not clear, however, is for how long he will remain with the national team now that he has been recalled.

His longer term fate is firmly in his hands because over the next three tests, Kaino is going to have to provide due cause for the selectors to preserve his test career beyond October.

This moment was always going to come for Kaino, but neither he nor, in all probability, the coaching staff imagined it would be now.


Surveying the landscape at the start of this year, it felt like the crunch for Kaino would come in 2018.

There were two reasons for thinking that. The first being that he turns 35 next April, and for all that he remains in good condition, there is a reality to playing in a high impact, explosive position at that age.

The difficulty is not producing world class performances at that age - it is consistently producing them. And as it gets harder to recover and prepare for each game, the pressure comes on mentally to retain the desire and attitude needed.

But the bigger reason for seeing 2018 as the year of destiny for Kaino was the probability of Liam Squire having used the back half of this year to further his claim to be the All Blacks starting blindside.

The All Blacks signalled early in 2017 that they would look to manage workloads in the second half of the season - rest and rotate a few players when they were on the road.

Also, with two games sandwiched between three test on the Northern Tour, it was easy to forecast that Squire would win enough game time in October and November to build his case as an international No 6.

That prediction was right but for the detail. Squire has been able to capitalise on Kaino's personal issues and use the first half of the season to state his case as the form blindside. The second unexpected element has been the emergence of Vaea Fifita.

The 25-year-old has a way to go in regard to nailing the tighter, gritty parts of the role, but he's clearly a phenomenal athlete with the sort of potential that simply has to be given an opportunity to be developed.

So Kaino now finds himself competing with two men who are respectively almost 10 years his junior and playing compelling rugby.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is empathetic, compassionate and patient, but he's not sentimental and with Squire and Fifita so obviously presenting as both the present and the future, Kaino is going to have to force his way back into the picture through performance not reputation.

The expectation is that he will be given a starting role in one of the next three games. Possibly, he'll be on the bench against the Pumas, fly home rather than go to South Africa and then start against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Whatever the actual plan turns out to be, there's likely to be a point where he's sent into battle wearing No 6 and told he's playing for his future: told that to make the 37-man squad that travels to Europe for three tests and two games, he is going to have to have to give a vintage Kaino performance.

The numbers are starting to stack against him on that front. Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Squire, Ardie Savea and Fifita are must haves in the loose forward mix.

Matt Todd will most likely be included, too, because the selectors will probably feel they need three specialist opensides for a five-game tour.

There might be room for two more loosies, possibly only one and that means Kaino could be competing with his Blues teammate Akira Ioane for the last place.

The intention has always been to use the tour to develop young talent - to take advantage of the games against the Barbarians and French XV to blood the next generation.

Ioane, at just 22, is another with enormous potential. He's another that could be special and if it becomes an either/or with him and Kaino, the selectors are going to need something solid to reassure them that taking the veteran is the right thing to do.