The All Black talks to Campbell Burnes about signing off with Toulouse and his new underwear brand

What’s next for European Cup winner Jerome Kaino?

Jerome Kaino is content.

There is nothing more to prove as he enters the final days of his professional playing career. He’s helped Toulouse lift a record fifth European Champions Cup and their first since 2010. A second Bouclier de Brennus with the French club would be nice to match his 2018-19 Top 14 title.

Regardless, the 38-year-old, who first started with Auckland way back in 2004 and has since racked up thousands of dominant tackles, has achieved virtually all there is in the game, including two World Cup wins with New Zealand. It is some story.

He seems to have life after rugby in hand, too, with last month’s launch of an underwear brand. More on that later.

For now, Kaino is set on going out with a bang with the grand old club of France, where he has won the respect of the French public and pundits over the past three seasons.

“I’ve loved it. The club has been amazing. It’s hard not to get excited with the players around you,” says Kaino. “There’s a lot of exciting young talent from that French team scattered around this Toulouse team.”

Kaino’s spoken French is a work in progress but he now understands much of what is said. Toulouse is a rugby-mad city, but Kaino says he and his family can get around with relative anonymity. The scrutiny, he believes, is more an online thing. He is keen to stay in France too. The kids are in school and there might be a coaching role for him at the club.

“I’d love to stay. They’ve got an awesome academy set-up here. With the way the world is going, it’s probably a logical decision to stay here for a bit. I’ve always wanted to get into coaching and give back to the game that’s given me so much.”

Toulouse’s Antoine Dupont and Jerome Kaino lift the Heineken Champions Cup (Getty Images)

He has no head coach aspirations in France, saying that his French would need to be up to scratch if he were to emulate Jono Gibbes at La Rochelle. But an assistant post would suit him just fine. Vern Cotter, Joe Schmidt, Simon Mannix, Carl Hayman and Conrad Smith are among those who have taken up the clipboard in France in recent years.

What does European Cup winner Jerome Kaino make of New Zealand rugby right now?

Kaino keeps a close eye on the Blues via Canal Plus and likes what he sees.

“Looking from the outside, it looks like they’ve got something good brewing there, a great team culture to work for each other. I’ve been excited by the depth NZ rugby seems to be pumping out, not just at the Blues. We just keep popping up loose forwards, left, right and centre.”

And while in his All Blacks pomp, there may have been just himself and Liam Messam at the head of the blindside flanker queue, now there are myriad options.

Akira Ioane scores for the Blues in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman (Getty Images)

“Akira (Ioane) has always had the goods. He was struggling mentally, but he seems to have a grip on it now because he’s playing really good rugby. In my biased opinion, he would be my No 6 in the next All Blacks squad.”

Hoskins Sotutu trained with the Blues in 2018, Kaino’s final year at his home franchise. “He always showed his skill, which was freakish. We always knew he would be a good player. It was just a matter of whether he would express himself. It didn’t take him long to take the opportunity with two hands. He never seems bothered by the pressure.”

Kaino hasn’t yet allowed himself to look back with nostalgia on his long career, from the dynamic early days of his try against the 2004 Barbarians though the peaks – the 2011 Rugby World Cup – and the troughs – when his All Blacks days fizzled out in 2017.

“Maybe in a few years, sitting on a beach or in a pub, all the memories will flood back. I’m proud and lucky to be able to have experienced what I achieved, but a lot of people played a hand in me being able to experience those things.”

What does the future hold for European Cup winner Jerome Kaino?

The shoulder and the knee have just weeks to hold out and then he can jump into coaching and spend more time on his Mint underwear brand. The first thing he clarifies is that he will not be modelling the new line of trunks or briefs, as Dan Carter did.

Developed over the past 12 months with his childhood buddies Bayon Kim and Rocky Lokeni, Mint caters for all shapes and sizes, including those with funny-shaped legs or overhanging bellies. The undies are made from bamboo fabric, sourced from China.

The days of the jockstrap seem to be long gone, but Kaino himself knows the importance of comfortable undies.

“I’m easy to please,” he laughs. “I grew up with some pretty horrific undies. Anything would have been better than what I had.”

European Cup winner Jerome

Jerome Kaino kisses the Webb Ellis Cup after New Zealand’s RWC 2015 win (AFP/Getty Images)

The motivation is to give back to the community, specifically the south Auckland community where he grew up, but Mint will sell globally.

Kaino has clearly ploughed some capital into this venture and will act as brand ambassador, as it were. Much of his work can be done online, and one day, when he is free of his rugby obligations, he will be able to devote more time to this new business.

“It’s great timing for life after rugby, but it’s something I’m passionate about, giving back to my community in some way.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of New Zealand Rugby News.

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