Jerome Kaino will tomorrow night play his final professional match in New Zealand when he runs out for the Blues against the Crusaders in Christchurch, a warrior in enemy territory who will almost certainly get the respect he deserves from a notoriously partisan crowd because of who he is and what he has achieved in the game.
Will we see his like again? Probably not, and here's why: The now 35-year-old played 81 tests but admits he was probably an All Black before he deserved to be. Despite not being allowed to play contact sports at his south Auckland primary school (the school banned them for "safety" reasons), he thrived on a scholarship at St Kents after switching from fullback to loose forward.
He was quick and athletic, but rangy with not much meat on his bones. He was known to those close to him as "Aunty" because of his willingness to look after the young children in his immediate family (and do the domestic chores).
His work ethic was terrible at the Blues after he joined in 2004 (a year after they won their last title). It all came a bit too easy and he enjoyed the night life a little too much. He was convicted of drink driving after getting behind the wheel following a big night and bumping into the back of a stationary car. Once he turned up to training a little worse for wear and it took Keven Mealamu to put him back on the straight and narrow.
He also received a slap across the chops from none other than the late Jerry Collins for not preparing properly for All Blacks training and forgetting the lineout calls. Kaino loved him for it and still mourns the death of his loose forward brother in a car crash in France just over three years ago.
And yet, despite it all, he thrived. Eventually. From talented young kid with an ordinary attitude to an All Black enforcer who starred in two World Cups, it has been a hell of a career for Kaino, who now leaves for French club Toulouse.
He made the All Blacks as a "project" in 2004 – Kaino's first game was against the Barbarians at Twickenham, a man of the match performance – but wasn't recalled until two years later when he was a substitute against Ireland in Hamilton and then earned a start a week later at Eden Park (where he had a stinker and drove home down State Highway 1 wondering if he'd play for the All Blacks again).
Kaino was dropped by head coach Graham Henry, as he knew he would be, due to a lack of fitness. Instead of settling for a comfortable career at Auckland and the Blues, he trained with the sevens squad, represented the Junior All Blacks, and re-modelled himself into a different beast altogether. He was recalled to the top team in 2008 and was a fixture in it until last year.
There were plenty of opportunities for him to fail, but he refused to, and that says something about the depth of character in a man who arrived in New Zealand from American Samoa as a four-year-old who hardly spoke a word of English.
Would players in his position today have the same fortitude? It's difficult to say, but Kaino's progress and the fact he became so consistently hard on himself in terms of his performance should be a shining example to the current Blues crop, in particular.
He was brilliant in the 2011 World Cup, but later reflected that he had a poor test in the final, won 8-7 by the All Blacks.
Not according to one Richie McCaw, the All Blacks skipper who said in Kaino's book My Story: "Jerome played well in that final. If you went through everyone we could all say we didn't play as well as the week before, but we did what we had to. There were a lot of things on defence you might say are mundane but if we hadn't done those things the result could have been different. He was exactly the same as the rest of us – we all gave everything.
"In the couple of years before the World Cup he had established himself as a real rock, especially leading the defence, and that's what he provided during the tournament - that physical element.
"During the knockout stages having him out there lifted all the guys around him. At the end of it he was the player for us who provided the steel, especially in the last couple of games. It was probably summed up in that tackle on [Digby] Ioane in that semifinal, the way he manhandled him. There are other examples but that is one that sticks out.
"He was bloody unlucky not to be named player of the tournament, really. He was for me."
And that's something that even Crusaders supporters would probably agree on.
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