Jerome Kaino is coming full circle as he emerges from the darkest period of his distinguished career.

Kaino first appeared for the All Blacks in 2004 against Barbarians at Twickenham. This week, he will face the same opposition, at the same venue, but in very different circumstances.

Back then he was the new kid on the block, whistled up from the Auckland provincial team to score a memorable try after running around Mat Rogers in an All Blacks team captained by Aaron Mauger.

Kaino has since featured in 81 tests; played superbly in the vast majority and achieved great feats, including two World Cup crowns.

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Now, the 34-year-old veteran is fighting for his future.

Kaino hasn't featured for the All Blacks in 15 weeks, since the British and Irish Lions series, after revelations of an extramarital affair put rugby on the backburner in the build-up to the opening Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney in August.

Kaino has since worked hard to mend bridges, and once he rejoined the team he has given his all to help develop successors Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita.

He admits sitting out the last seven tests has been the toughest time in his life as a professional athlete.

"Yeah I'd say so, but the team and coaches have been great in creating a positive distraction away from that," Kaino said. "They've been helpful and supportive in that time. I'm still working through a lot of things but for me it's focusing on footy this week.

"It has been tough but I've been able to deal with that away from footy and the team. The rugby union has been great throughout that time. It's going to take a lot of time ... It's an on-going process."

During his extended time out, Kaino blocked out thoughts his All Blacks career was over as Squire and Fifita grabbed their chances.

"I didn't think too much of it obviously with a lot of things outside footy I've been focused on. That natural progression to start thinking about the future was always going to happen.

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"I wouldn't say it's been frustrating but I would've loved a little more rugby and to be involved more. For me to still be involved and around the group has been encouraging - just to be able to train and be in touch that's driven me a lot."

Kaino has been forced to bide his time and earn his way back.

"We've made it tough for him because it hasn't been easy to get back in but his attitude has been outstanding," assistant coach Ian Foster said. "He's got a bounce in his step and he's pretty keen to play soon."

Starting at No8 in Kieran Read's absence against the Baabaas - Fifita filling Kaino's favoured No6 jersey - represents a chance to take a step forward, and a chance to prove he should feature in future plans.

"I still feel I've got a lot of footy left in me. I'm still driven to work hard every day and fight for a position but also if not involved, which I haven't been in the last few weeks, I've managed to refocus my time and energy into preparing the guys that do run out.

"The possibility of being involved this weekend is extra special for me."