It's a case of cautious good news for All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who hopes to be back playing in July after ticking off a milestone in his recovery from back surgery – running on the training pitch with his Crusaders teammates.

But the 32-year-old, who has played 109 tests, knows he has to pace his return to play carefully.

He is completely pain-free and running at close to full pace and even jumping and lifting in lineouts, but after the operation in Auckland in December which freed the nerve pressure caused by a disc bulge – which caused significant leg pain - the Crusaders' ever-watchful medical staff are happy to tell him to slow down if he gets ahead of himself.

"There's no time frame on it," Read said today. "Hopefully in July some time but it could be earlier or later. It's about ticking milestones off and this [running on training pitch] is one. It's been a long time since I've been on the field actually running around properly. I've still got a lot to do.


"It's a six-month injury, really, post-surgery. I'm coming up to five months now. It's going good – you've just got to be patient with things like nerves and mucking around with your spinal cord – you can't rush things.

"I guess if I wasn't a rugby player I would probably feel 100 per cent a month or so ago but if you run around and get hit and smashed by people it's a bit different."

Read had been ruled out of next month's test series against France some time ago, but an appearance in the Rugby Championship, which starts for the All Blacks with a test against Australia in Sydney on August 18, is now likely, as is meaningful input for the Crusaders, the current Super Rugby leaders. Their final round-robin match is against the Blues on July 14.

The priority for the All Blacks coaches will be to have Read back and healthy this year in readiness to help their side launch their World Cup defence in Japan next year.

He will be a key component of their squad for the end-of-year tour because the All Blacks play their final Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in Yokohama in late October and a week later play Japan in Tokyo as they prepare for what will be a unique tournament. Tough tests against England and Ireland and one against Italy follow.

Read's last match was the test against Scotland at Murrayfield in November last year, so this is the longest he has gone in his professional career without playing. Crusaders teammate Sam Whitelock or Chiefs flanker Sam Cane is likely to lead the All Blacks in his absence.

"It's a funny one," Read said. "At this time of my career it's maybe a blessing in some ways; spend a bit more time with the family but also the body is feeling pretty good aside from the obvious and once I'm back on the field I'm sure it'll keep me refreshed this year and heading into next year."

He has been doing pilates and has spent time in the pool as he endeavours to strengthen his support muscles. He has also spent a lot of time in the gym – all mostly solitary pursuits, so to progress to his next stage in recovery has been beneficial in terms of his confidence as he works towards contact training.


"When you're slogging away by yourself it's very tough, so to have the ball in your hand and have a run around with the lads is a real positive and certainly gave me a big lift."

Coach Steve Hansen will announce the All Blacks squad for next month's three tests on Sunday. Read said of Whitelock's All Black captaincy chances: "He's doing a great job here and he's part of the leadership group. He's right in the mix I'd guess."