The two-time World Cup winner discusses what the future may hold with Campbell Burnes of NZ Rugby News
Kieran Read on TMOs, All Blacks and Japan
The No 8 announced his retirement in May after helping Toyota Verblitz to the Top League semi-finals in Japan. Here the 35-year-old talks to Campbell Burnes of NZ Rugby News magazine about his TMO frustrations, the game in Japan and what’s next…
Is the Top League a good standard?
It’s definitely a good standard and it’s improved from even five years ago, in talking to the guys up there. It’s not as physical as in New Zealand, but the guys are well drilled and the game’s played at a good clip.
The skill level is pretty high, so you have to be on your game. There’s probably five to six good sides and then there can be some games that aren’t as tough.
Was it mentally tough keeping your standards high, given you were playing for a team that was no longer the pinnacle of the game for you?
No, it wasn’t, actually. It was quite invigorating, not having that external pressure as you have back in New Zealand.
I’m that way inclined that when I turn up I want to do the best I can. I want to help the guys around me. All these Japanese players are so keen to learn. There wasn’t so much pressure on me to play well but I was just trying to help the boys out. I really enjoyed that, having had that pressure for several years.
You played for Counties Manukau Steelers in 2020 and one of your roles was to mentor the younger boys. So is loose forward Viliami Taulani, closer to realising his full potential?
I hope so. I see he made his Chiefs debut this season (and then represented Tonga in July).
The thing is with some of these guys coming into NPC is that they come in from full-time jobs and just don’t know any different. To be able to train professionally and have a full pre-season under their belt, it does wonders for any young player. Someone like Viliami has a massive future if he can keep himself in the right frame of mind.
Do you admire some of these warriors like Liam Messam and Alun Wyn Jones, who seemingly just keep going?
I’m full of admiration for them. The toll it takes on your body is tough, but it depends what you want to get out of it and, if you are mentally still there, then it’s great to see them getting around.
Having experience sprinkled through competitions here in New Zealand, in particular, is only going to aid the development of our younger players. I don’t envy them, though, I’m happy just watching now.
What are your plans now?
Not too sure, really. I am in the midst of trying to set up a leadership consultation business, perhaps helping out academies or young guys or rugby teams initially and then hopefully building that into a wider audience. I feel like rugby gave me so much, so I want to try and give back.
What the major concerns for the game now? The global season, the laws, player welfare…
When I was last here, we were trying to help get the whole global season under way and that will be crucial to help wellbeing and sorting out better competitions for the guys.
I look at the game now and seeing the stoppages is frustrating. You cannot really wear a team down if there are endless stoppages for TMO or something else. The whole resilience of playing 80 minutes is being affected. You get five minutes to make a decision sometimes, so it all drags out. You need to back gut instinct.
Thoughts on the All Blacks No 8? There are probably three candidates in Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu and perhaps Luke Jacobson.
I think Ardie has to be on the field, but I think a No 8 has to be a specialist too. But it’s time in the saddle and Ardie has really grown into that role. He’s quite different to me in that role and that’s great. Hoskins has got a big future if he keeps growing his game.
Do you feel Jacobson is more of a No 6 at All Blacks level?
I think so. When he came in in 2019 he was chopping guys off the line and he looked like having a big future in the All Blacks. The loose forwards will always be tough to select.
Has Sam Whitelock benefitted from that 2020 season in Japan, after such a heavy workload through 2018-19?
I certainly think so. He’s one of the best locks around. He’s a good mate and it’s great to see him playing good footy. At his age, that little bit of time off can give your body that chance to refresh and increase your longevity in the game.
Are you confident the All Blacks will bounce back strongly this season after a scratchy, shortened, programme in 2020?
One hundred percent. The tools are all there for them to go really well. It’s just about putting it together. It’s about measuring the talent you have around the expectations and putting it out on the field. I’m sure they’ll do well.
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