All Blacks captain Kieran Read shakes off the doubts to return at ‘100 per cent’

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All Blacks captain Kieran Read will play his first test of the year against the Wallabies on Saturday night.

Kieran Read has admitted on Bledisloe eve to having a “few doubts” about whether he would make it back on to the rugby field after undergoing major back surgery at the end of last year.

But the All Blacks skipper, who will lead his country for the 35th time against the Wallabies on Saturday night at an ANZ Stadium expected to attract a crowd of around 65,000, said he feels in a “good space now” as he relaunches his test career after a short absence.

Read missed the final test of 2017 against Wales when his back issues finally reached a critical point, and then was unavailable for the June series against France while he worked back to full fitness following that surgery to repair a prolapsed lumbar disc.

“I can’t wait to get back on the field with the boys,” he said at Friday’s Captain’s Run that saw the All Blacks break with tradition and avoid traffic by holding their light hitout at North Sydney Oval, instead of the match venue. “Getting an injury like I had, there were a few doubts that do float around but once I got in the process of recovery … I’m in a good space right now.”

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Read said the road back was a tough and challenging one, but he maintained a positive mindset throughout as he eventually zeroed in on a return for the business end of Super Rugby.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read:

CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

All Blacks captain Kieran Read: ‘”I am 100 per cent now in terms of running out and playing the game.”

“I always had confidence I’d be back,” he added. “Probably early on I didn’t think it would be this quick, so I’m really happy to be here and to play in the back end of Super and in a test match right now is awesome

“I am 100 per cent now in terms of running out and playing the game. It’s just a little bit different in my recovery now and how I do things performance wise. But out on the track it’s all good.”

The return of Read, for his 110th test and 30th against Australia, alongside world-class lock Brodie Retallick, who hasn’t pulled on the black jersey since last September’s record defeat of the Springboks in Albany, is certainly timely.

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The All Blacks pack has a much steelier look about it with Retallick and Read adding their strong backs to proceedings, and they may be needed against an improving Wallabies outfit who are desperate to turn round a Bledis-woe record that has seen them win just four of their last 32 matches against the Kiwis. It is 16 long years since the Australians last held the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby superiority.

“Experience does count for a lot in terms getting into tight situations and you’ve been there and done that,” said Read. “We’ve got to use that to our advantage; but what we can’t do is think it’s just going to happen for us. We’ve got to work hard from the outset and across the board and try to find our rhythm as quickly as we can.

“This is a big game. It’s rightly being spoken of very highly. We respect that, we respect what they’re building towards and know it’s going to be a hell of a game. We know they’re building a team that’s hungry.”

All Blacks captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen will look to continue their Bledisloe dominance over the Wallabies ...

KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES

All Blacks captain Kieran Read and coach Steve Hansen will look to continue their Bledisloe dominance over the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.

The All Blacks captain and No 8 continued a week-long theme of All Blacks respect towards their opponents.

“The Hoopers, Foleys, Beales, Folaus, they’re absolutely outstanding players. We’ve got to be wary of them. They showed a lot of emphasis [in June] on working really hard as a forward pack as well, D-ing up really strongly and putting pressure on in the maul. They’ve got real strengths across the board.”

Read also welcomed Crusaders team-mate Sam Whitelock to the All Blacks’ 100 club, as the youngest to have reached the great summit.

“He’s probably been a little bit unsung for a long time in that locking jersey. To get to 100 games is a phenomenal achievement. He deserves every last one of those games and doesn’t disappoint any time he runs out.”

 – Stuff

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