Read casting a long shadow over All Black history

The All Blacks number eight has been in inspirational form in Japan as he seeks a third successive World Cup before bowing out of international rugby.

TOKYO, 24 Oct - New Zealand captain Kieran Read has looked almost embarrassed by the plaudits he has received this week, with both the coach of his own team and of semi-final opponents England taking time out to hail his enduring greatness.

On Saturday, after Read's thunderous performance against Ireland in the quarter-final, All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen began his post-match press conference by offering a generous tribute to "the big fella alongside me" whose leadership and performances, he said, had risen to new heights.

Earlier this week, England coach Eddie Jones was happy to use the mighty number eight, above, in his pre-match mind games by suggesting the All Blacks would be feeling the pressure because it might be the last match for "their greatest captain".

This self-effacing champion, who will turn 34 on the day of the semi-final, would doubtless dismiss as nonsense the idea he had somehow usurped two-time World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw as the owner of that accolade and, even while thanking Hansen for the compliment, he suggested it would have been better for him say it two weeks later.

Yet Read, pictured above, cuts a monumental figure ahead of this semi-final and is offering signs he is back to his best after spinal surgery at the end of 2017. 


He is an icon to his younger team-mates, who are clearly inspired by a man seeking a third straight title before hanging up his black jersey.

Here in Japan, where he will be playing for club side Toyota Verblitz after the World Cup, Read has excelled and, as Hansen noted, provided an emphatic riposte to critics who felt an operation on a prolapsed lumbar disc in his back meant he would never be quite the dynamic force of old.

"It just takes time. When your nerves are blocked and not working properly, your whole body basically shuts down," Read said.

"I've worked hard to get back to it and it's probably taken a bit longer than I anticipated.

"But I had this goal of what this tournament would bring, and I knew where I wanted to be and that's where I am now. I'm excited at what’s coming."

A nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when Read, having had a tight calf this week, was named to lead the team for a 51st time, which equals the tally Sean Fitzpatrick, one of the All Blacks' 1987 world champions, amassed between 1992 and 1997. 

Fitzpatrick, who was at Read's press conference, has been in the All Blacks' camp this week, along with a couple of other test greats, Conrad Smith and John Kirwan.

"These are legends of the game, guys we looked up to when we were younger," said Read. "It's awesome for the guys to see they're just human beings as we all are and share some stories." 

That is the way Read's team-mates clearly feel about him.

"Kieran leads with his actions," said Beauden Barrett. "The influence he has around the team, his decision-making, we feel a lot of confidence with him leading us. 

"There's only one way to lead and that's by example. He's doing that very well, getting up off the line and making big tackles. He's inspirational."

Kieran Read - a career in numbers

Caps: 125 (W106, L14, D4) - only Richie McCaw (148) and Keven Mealamu (132) have played more tests for New Zealand

Caps as captain: 50 (W42, L6, D2) - only Sean Fitzpatrick (51) and Richie McCaw (110) have played more tests for New Zealand as captain

Tries: 26 - only one New Zealand forward, McCaw, has scored more (27), although Read has a superior tries-per-test record

Team Honours: Rugby World Cup (2011, 2015), Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)

Individual Honours: World Rugby Player of the Year 2013, New Zealand player of the year (2010, 2013)

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