Pain al­most over for Read

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

Kieran Read is fi­nally on the cusp of mak­ing his long-awaited come­back.

Ac­cord­ing to Steve Hansen the sight of Read, who hasn’t played since un­der­go­ing spinal surgery in De­cem­ber and re­lin­quished the All Blacks cap­taincy to Sam White­lock for the French se­ries, try­ing to get away with mur­der at train­ings is a ter­rific sign.

‘‘We should see him on the park in a cou­ple of weeks – maybe for Coun­ties,’’ All Blacks coach Hansen said.

‘‘He has been a pain in the butt at train­ing and the boys are get­ting sick of him. He has been in the op­po­si­tion and as nig­gly as hell, so he is ready to go shortly.’’

No 8 Read, who has switched pro­vin­cial al­le­giances from Can­ter­bury to Coun­ties, where he cut his milk teeth in the game, has been cau­tious about manag­ing his work­load since the re­pair job on his back.

The good news is the 32-year-old is run­ning freely and rel­ish­ing con­tact. It ap­pears Hansen tasked Read to play the role of an ag­gres­sive French­man dur­ing prepa­ra­tions for the dead rub­ber in Dunedin to­mor­row night and the sight of the 109-test vet­eran get­ting up his team-mates noses cre­ated some mirth.

‘‘He should be right for some games for the Cru­saders after that [play­ing for Coun­ties], so it is quite ex­cit­ing for us,’’ Hansen added. ‘‘As I say he has been quite nig­gly the last cou­ple of weeks – the boys are sick of him. We will be pleased to give him a game.’’

This means Read may be back in charge of the All Blacks for their first Bledis­loe Cup match against the Wal­la­bies in Sydney on Au­gust 18.

While watch­ing the All Blacks bum­ble their way to an un­con­vinc­ing 26-13 win over France last week­end, it was dif­fi­cult not to be­lieve they would have been more ef­fi­cient if Read had been in charge. In ad­di­tion to his lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, he adds punch to the at­tack and the de­fen­sive line.

For Hansen the im­me­di­ate task is to en­sure his re­vamped match-day 23 can send France pack­ing with a 3-0 se­ries de­feat.

While star play­maker Beau­den Bar­rett and re­serve loose for­ward/ lock Vaea Fi­fita had re­cov­ered from con­cus­sion, Hansen re­fused to pick them.

‘‘If we had re­ally pushed it, both of them could have ended-up play­ing on Satur­day. But we tend to like not to play them the week after they have been con­cussed.’’

The de­ci­sion to start Damian Mcken­zie at first five-eighth ahead of spe­cial­ist Richie Mo’unga – the lat­ter has been named on the bench – was be­cause the se­lec­tors be­lieved he needed to get more ex­po­sure in the po­si­tion.

‘‘If we had gone the other way it would have been be­cause we wanted Damian avail­able to play at full­back as well. For this one we have made the de­ci­sion that we want him to be a guy that can play first-five for us.’’

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