The question of legacy looms more in World Cup year than any other.

Such a pinnacle juncture signals the end point for many players and coaches; one final, defining chapter to conclude careers at the top of the game with fairytales, flops and anywhere in between.

In the case of Kieran Read, as he prepares to signoff with a move to Japan, at this stage the distinction between player and captain is important to make.

Read's legacy as a great No 8 is already confirmed.

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His legacy as captain, though, will ultimately be judged on what happens later this year in Japan when he leads the All Blacks on their quest to become the first nation to claim three successive World Cup titles.

Like all those involved in the All Blacks, the past four years has been geared towards Read peaking for this tournament. Another late start to Super Rugby this season – he is not expected back until round six or seven – offers further evidence.

Concussions combined with surgery on his wrist and spine has restricted Read's ability to replicate the form which propelled him to World Rugby player of the year in 2013. Last year's back injury in particular could easily have ended his career.

Injuries aside, Read undoubtedly sits alongside Zinzan Brooke and Buck Shelford as New Zealand's greatest No 8s. Sir Brian Lochore and Alex 'Grizz' Wyllie also deserve a nod in this discussion.

Brooke's drop goal talents – he nailed three in all – are replayed and revered but he also set a world record in his early to mid-90s era with 17 tries in 58 tests.

Shelford's fire, fury and legendary toughness – the four lost teeth and stitched scrotum in one test against France the stuff of folklore – set the tone for his leadership which oversaw his three-year unbeaten captaincy reign with the All Blacks in the late 80s. The only blemish was one draw against the Wallabies. Shelford is also, of course, responsible for bringing real mana to the Ka Mate haka.

At his best, Read is among the most athletic loose forwards to play the game. His threat in the wide channels has been well harnessed by the All Blacks and Crusaders. There the timing of his offloads, and the ability to draw defenders, sets him apart.

Perhaps Read's most underrated skill is in the air. He is arguably the world leader as far as lineout loose forwards go – both at securing his side's ball, contesting the opposition and reading calls.

This gives the All Blacks three-pronged threats at every lineout. Read's aerial talents stretch to restarts where he has been influential in snatching kickoffs that have led to many great escapes in the dying stages of major test matches.

Prior to assuming the captaincy, Read started in both the 2011 and 2015 World Cup triumphs, in between times forming a formidable combination at the boot with Aaron Smith.

Captaincy wise, Read accepted the somewhat impossible task of succeeding Richie McCaw.

Immediately following the 2015 World Cup, Read helped oversee a seamless transition despite the loss of many All Blacks greats – Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu shuffling off with McCaw. Only the first loss to Ireland in Chicago blotted that season.

Since then, though, the drawn British and Irish Lions series ranks as a disappointment; that bizarre image of Read sharing the trophy with Sam Warburton is difficult to erase from memory.

Last year's test season, where the All Blacks lost to the Springboks in Wellington; Ireland in Dublin and scraped past England at Twickenham, then left question marks about their leadership group as a whole.

Read's experience in absorbing lessons - growing and evolving through these challenges - will be crucial come the World Cup.

This year is the 33-year-old's chance to imprint the captaincy side of his legacy.
The All Blacks pride themselves on leaving the jersey in a better place.

When you consider Read's longevity; his evolution from rangy blindside to succeeding Rodney So'oialo and performing at a level where there is uncertainty over who will replace him, he has certainly lived that mantra throughout.

Above all else, that is his legacy.

His 118 tests, 43 as captain, and 25 tries only tells part of the story, one which is far from finished yet.