Kieran Read's ferocious workrate is one reason the All Blacks want him back - but there is far more to his game, writes Dylan Cleaver
When their careers have been consigned to the pages of Men In Black, the back-row triumvirate of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino will likely be looked upon with the same sort of reverence as Lochore, Nathan and Tremain, or Shelford, Jones and A.J. Whetton.
"We enjoy playing with each other and it shows," said Read. "We're lucky in that our styles really complement each other. We enjoy each other's company and that helps when we're out on the track, we tend to know what each other is going to do."
It's the sort of combination that you almost notice more when one isn't there, like during the final Tri-Nations test against Australia when Kaino stayed home with his pregnant wife.
Less than 15 minutes into the match, the vaunted trio became a solo act, with Read limping from the field with a torn ligament that will likely keep him out until the final pool match against Canada on October 2.
"I heard a decent pop when it happened so immediately I was dreading that it was something pretty bad," he said. "I thought it was a break or something. I stayed down and it wasn't too painful initially, so I didn't really know but I was down in the dumps on the sideline.
"I was trying to stay positive but you just don't know and it's great that they [selectors] are keeping me in the squad too and giving me the chance."
It is a measure of Read's importance that not once did the All Black selectors consider replacing him.
If McCaw is the brilliant fetcher who turned himself into a complete player, and Kaino is the bone-shattering defender, then it's tempting to describe Read as the glue that holds it all together. That would be unfair. It implies that he is a grafter, a workhorse prepared to sacrifice personal glory for team riches. That might be true, but he's more than that.
Since making his debut 32 tests ago in 2008, Read's portfolio has expanded to the point where he is now a feared opponent on both sides of the ball. The All Black No8 is as creative as he is destructive.
Not that he's the perfect player. Read is painfully modest when it comes to assessing his ability. If anything, he's more animated when discussing a cricket career chopped off at the knees when he bust an ACL as he prepared for a bid to make the New Zealand under-19s.
Read was an attacking top-order batsman who had already caught the eye of national selectors while playing for Northern Districts at national under-17 level.
He readily admits to watching a lot more cricket than he does rugby, which is not to say he doesn't like the 15-man code, more the fact that cricket is his escape from that constant search for No8 perfection.
"There's a few areas I can improve," he said. "My attacking play I can improve in terms of my skill-set and off the back of the scrum. My tactical nous, too. I can add a lot more to teams I'm involved in around that."
Read's leadership qualities have already been recognised at Super Rugby level, and in many minds he is heir apparent to McCaw at international level.
"In this environment, [assistant coach] Steve Hansen pretty much wants me to be his lieutenant and to back him up. I probably have a bit more to say within the group, it just comes with experience," Read said.
A product of South Auckland, Read went south for his rugby education.
At the Crusaders this year, he received a different sort of lesson: just how much sports can mean to people in hard times.
As Christchurch bent and buckled under the strain of the February earthquake and its aftershocks, the Crusaders embarked on an improbable run to the final without playing a single match at their home base. It meant a lot to the players, it meant more to the public.
"It was interesting. It was probably the first time as a Crusader, and we've been so successful, that I really felt the public was behind us and wanted us to do well," he said.
"After the final I realised how big an effect it can have on the public and the fans who really appreciate what we do. It was quite humbling to know that even in a small way we can have an effect on people's lives."
It was also a crash-course on the type of hope and expectation that will accompany this World Cup campaign, particularly after the preceding five fruitless ones.
Read is so far revelling in the positive energy.
"It's been great, the past month or so, just people out on the street coming up to you and wishing you luck, telling us they're right behind us. It's heating up and it's great to know everybody is right behind us."
Read has yet to experience the flip side of that and is in no rush to find out what it feels like.
The big guns
Pierre Spies (South Africa)
At times he has flattered to deceive when facing the All Blacks, perhaps because Kieran Read seems to grow a foot taller when playing the South Africans, but Spies can be a nightmare for opponents with his size and athleticism. He missed the 2007 World Cup after doctors discovered blood clots on his lungs. "Pierre's got great attacking ability. When he's able to run in a bit of space he's outstanding and off the back of the scrum
as well he's very strong. As a fellow No 8 you appreciate those things," said Read.
Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)
Looked a complete plonker when getting himself sent off against the All Blacks in New Plymouth last year, which was a shame because Heaslip can play. Has the dual distinction of being the first player sent off for Ireland in the professional era and is also the first Israeli-born player to represent the shamrock. "Jamie is a player similar to me," Read said. "We're more about work rate and he gets around the field really well."
Sergio Parisse (Italy)
At just 27, Parisse has been capped 74 times by unfashionable Italy. The Argentine-born back-rower is a player of immense talent in an often struggling team. He is not averse to indulging in the shadier side of play, as we saw when he received an eight-week ban for gouging lock Isaac Ross during their 27-6 defeat to the All Blacks last June. Parisse is married to Miss Europe 2006 Alexandra Rosenfeld, who is not too shabby.