Kaino seeking to go out of game on right note
Coach Steve Hansen’s statement before today’s test against South Africa that Jerome Kaino’s days as an All Black aren’t over yet wouldn’t have told the loose forward anything he didn’t know. But it is a sign for everyone else that he is on the brink of overcoming another challenge — and he’s had a few.
The 34-year-old Kaino is nearing the end of his rugby career and had probably been overtaken by Liam Squire (and some would say Vaea Fifita) before leaving Sydney on the morning of the test against the Wallabies two months ago to attend to his family after a lurid story in one of the tabloids across the Ditch.
His last test was the draw against the British and Irish Lions and he wasn’t required for this morning’s test against the Springboks in Cape Town. But Hansen has hinted strongly that he will be involved in the third Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Brisbane in a fortnight and next month’s tour to Europe.
“He’ll get an opportunity, he just has to wait,” Hansen said. “Liam Squire has played outstanding. We left him at home to give him a rest and freshen him up for this game so it would be pointless just to chuck JK in. There’s a test match in a couple of weeks and quite a few games on the northern tour, so JK will get opportunities in those games at some point.”
The 81-test veteran deserves to go out on his own terms because while he developed into a defensive powerhouse who won two World Cups (and excelled in both tournaments), he has not always had it easy. He had an uncertain start to his career, making his starting debut against Ireland at Eden Park in 2006 and he did not play another test until exactly two years later — against England in Wellington. Straight after that test in Auckland, he travelled down the motorway to his parents’ house in Papakura, where he still lived, believing he wouldn’t play another test. Walking into the lounge and seeing the faces of his father and uncles before the television, he felt they believed the same thing.
Kaino persevered, though, and luckily for him, the chances kept coming. The same appears to be on the horizon for him now.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry kept the faith despite a drink driving conviction in 2008 — just as he was attempting to establish himself at the top level again — which threatened to turn his life upside down and forced him to examine his relationship with alcohol.
After a big night out with a mate, Kaino was behind the wheel the next morning when he failed to see a car stopping at a pedestrian crossing and hit it.
He blew 834 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath — the legal limit is 400.
Kaino was fined, lost his licence for six months and was ordered to undergo counselling. After his day in court, he had to face the All Blacks coaches.
He wrote in his autobiography My Story: “He [Henry] didn’t blow me up but he and the coaches were pretty disappointed that I was drinking on a week off when I should have been focusing on preparing for the Springboks, the current world champions and one of our toughest rivals. “And as for getting in the car the morning after a big night, well, that speaks for itself. I could tell when I looked into Wayne Smith’s eyes that I had really let him down because he and the other coaches had stuck their necks out to pick me that year, and that was how I repaid them. “Their main concern rugby-wise was if I was preparing to play the Springboks — and I would probably only get one crack at it — why was I drinking at 5 o’clock in the morning? They couldn’t get their heads around it and I had no answer to it.”
As a man with genuine life experience, Kaino still has plenty to offer an All Black team in a rebuilding phase. Fortunately for him, that is likely to soon happen on the pitch.
HGo to nzherald.co.nz for all the reaction from this morning’s All Blacks test in Cape Town