Read rises to Tri-Nations challenge
July 18, 2010
All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read takes on the Springboks' defence during their clash in Wellington © Getty Images
All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read delighted in a stand-out performance during his side's 31-17 Tri-Nations victory over South Africa in Wellington.
The Canterbury forward agrees he has lifted his rugby to a new level in the past month, unleashing a skill set the Springboks struggled to cope with. Read eclipsed glamour South African opposite Pierre Spies in both Tri-Nations Test wins, virtually confirming the berth at the back of the scrum is his through to the World Cup and beyond.
A non-stop tackling game is now allied with acceleration and clever offloads on attack, making him a integral part of New Zealand's high-octane style. Among the youngest members of the squad, 24-year-old Read has been reluctant to talk himself up during the 21 tests since debuting on the 2008 tour to Europe.
A sign of his burgeoning maturity and confidence was the response when asked if he had climbed to a new playing standard this season. "I think I have. That was probably one of my goals at the start of the season, to make sure that I stamped my mark on international rugby," Read told NZPA. "I'm pretty pleased with the performances so far, especially these last two games. I just have to make sure I continue that trend."
The man who many regard as a future All Blacks captain gradually displaced veteran No.8 Rodney So'oialo last year. He was now more relaxed and enjoying the lung-busting style adopted by this year's side. The players were confident going into the back-to-back Springbok Tests.
"We knew we had a good style of play that we were building through those tests in June (against Ireland and Wales)," he said. "We were pretty confident in our own ability... the way we're playing is a great credit to the coaches to give us that game plan and allow us that confidence to play like that."
All Blacks lineout caller Read was less impressed with last night's second half effort in that phase, when the Springboks claimed four wins against the throw. It followed a perfect lineout display during the 32-12 win at Eden Park a week earlier.
"It was pretty disappointing. The endeavour was there but the boys were just slightly off," he said. "They're a quality lineout so it obviously wasn't always going to go our way. We probably needed to react a bit quicker to what they were doing."
Forwards coach Steve Hansen blamed the late lineout lapses on fatigue and over-complication but was also disappointed the All Blacks didn't contest Springboks throws effectively, with the visitors claiming 12 from 12 on their ball. However, he had no doubt Read had established himself as an elite performer on the test stage.
"What we're seeing now is world class performances," Hansen said. "He's certainly a rock in the side, along with (captain Richie McCaw) and one or two others. When you get world class players in your pack, they're comforting to a coach. He's certainly very comforting."
Another stand-out performer in Wellington, scrum-half Piri Weepu, is in doubt for the All Blacks' Tri-Nations test against Australia in Melbourne this month due to pending fatherhood. Weepu, arguably the best player on the field in last night's clash, raced to hospital soon after the fulltime whistle after hearing his first child could be on the way. That wasn't the case and Weepu was back at the team hotel today.
The baby is due early in the week leading up to the Wallabies Test on July 31, may well impact on his involvement according to coach Graham Henry. "It would be good if that baby came very quickly. If we can work on that, that would be good," Henry said. "There's a possibility (he will miss the Test), we'll just have to wait and see."
Last night's Test was a breakthrough performance from the 26-year-old on his home ground. His 40th test was just his 14th start, and the first time he hasn't started among the reserves since late 2008. The crowd roared his every touch in a varied attacking display which sparked several of New Zealand's best moments. The loudest was reserved for a 50m penalty goal on the angle midway through the second spell, when replacing the out-of-touch Daniel Carter as goalkicker.
Henry said Weepu was his player of the match while assistant coach Wayne Smith said the No 9's display in place of regular starter Jimmy Cowan was "outstanding". "He was clearly happy to be on his home track," Smith said. "That first half he made 2-3 busts that were pretty important for us. He stepped up and kicked a key penalty too."