Jerome Kaino doesn't want a fuss made of his final match for the Blues at Eden Park.

The only concession to this being a significant occasion 14 years after he made his Super Rugby debut is that he is planning to run on to the pitch hand-in-hand with sons Kobe, 6, and Grayson, 2.

His daughter, Milan, nine, has a significant prior engagement — a school production — so won't be there tomorrow night but most of his family will be as the 35-year-old loose forward says goodbye to a place where he has enjoyed so many highs and lows, and leaked a fair bit of blood and sweat.

This match against the Reds — coached by his old All Black mate Brad Thorn (another who could fit comfortably into the quiet enforcer category) will be Kaino's 137th for his franchise. He made his debut against the team from Queensland too — a neat symmetry, although he will be hoping for a better result and, perhaps, a better individual performance.

Advertisement

Back in 2004, he came off the reserves bench at Ballymore and his first assignment, to his horror, was to tackle the imposing form of Wallabies wing Wendell Sailor, a league convert. Kaino, in his own words, went in a "bit soft", and was half bumped off but managed to scrag Sailor, much to his relief. The Blues were soundly beaten.

There weren't many soft tackles after that in an extraordinary career which began with Kaino as an athletic and quick flanker who went from being a bit loose with his play and getting the most out of himself to becoming one of the most feared tacklers in international rugby and starring for the All Blacks in two World Cups.

He has three matches left for the Blues, who again won't make the playoffs which means another title chance goes begging. For all his talent and desire, Kaino, who joined the Blues a season after their third championship win, has never won a Super Rugby title. It is one of his few rugby regrets.

"I'm wishing winning a championship with the Blues was one of those memories but it's not to be," Kaino said today as he reflected on his career before a move to French club Toulouse.

"Every time that I've been able to run out in the jersey has been special for me.

"It's not through lack of trying. Everyone within our club works hard to get the results but I guess it's down to the 15 on the field to be able to get consistent performances."

Young Jerome Kaino and his fantastic hair. Photo / Getty
Young Jerome Kaino and his fantastic hair. Photo / Getty

Kaino, born in American Samoa, arrived in Auckland with his family as a four-year-old, and turned himself into a consistent performer through a learned work ethic and a few short and sharp conversations with former All Blacks coach Graham Henry, among others.

And it is appropriate both to that longevity and Kaino's inherent modesty that he is planning to celebrate his last game for the Blues — which fitness permitting will be against the Crusaders in Christchurch on July 14 — alongside Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett, also 35 and cut from a similar cloth. Crockett is retiring at the end of the season.

Advertisement

Kaino played 81 tests and even late last year hoped to finish with the All Blacks in the recent series against France, but it wasn't to be.

"It was tough," he said. "It was my first June break for a while. Around selection time it was a little bit weird but just to sit and watch as a spectator — I really enjoyed it. I didn't feel as though I was missing out in a competition sense. The excitement I have is seeing the next crop of guys in my position and how many freaks there are that are going to be in that jersey for a while.

"I really would have liked to have pushed for a position this year and finish up there. But talking to the coaches, unless you're an absolute shoo-in for selection you've got to earn your stripes every year. I knew early on that my form wasn't good enough for me to gain selection so I got my head around it."

Kaino has been putting off thinking about moving on but it will sink in over the next few weeks. The realities of travelling with wife Di and their three children to the other side of the world mean Kaino has had to think about houses and schools but when the time comes to say goodbye to the only franchise he has played for it is likely to be an emotional moment.

"It's then I'll realise the magnitude of how lucky I was," he said.

What about after his French connection?

"I'd still like to be involved in the game in some capacity. I wouldn't rule out coaching but it's a bit tough trying to coach my son [Kobe's] team at the moment. It's like herding stray cats. Going off that I'm not going too well, but never say never. I would love to be involved in the game somehow because it's given me so much. If I can give back in that way I'd love to."