Kieran Read’s return could not have come at a better time for the Crusaders ahead of the Super Rugby final against the Lions, live on Sky Sports Action, or the All Blacks as they prepare for the Rugby Championship, says coach Steve Hansen.
Read missed virtually all of Super Rugby as he recovered from back surgery late last year but was an unofficial member of the All Blacks squad for their series against France in June.
Hansen described his captain as making himself ‘a pain in the butt’ during the training sessions, where his role was to replicate the tactics of the French, and he returned for the Crusaders after the international break.
Crusaders vs Lions
August 4, 2018, 8:00am
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Read’s minutes were carefully managed as he built back into the competition and he has been increasingly more stinging on defence in each of the four games since his return.
Hansen says he hopes to see the 32-year-old’s pace and ball-carrying improve by the time the All Blacks open their Rugby Championship defence against Australia on August 18, live on Sky Sports.
“When he does that, it looks like he will be right back to his very, very best so we know that’s a pretty good level of a rugby player,” Hansen said this week.
“We’re looking forward to getting him back and having his leadership.”
Injuries notwithstanding, Read is almost certain to lead the All Blacks at next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
With that longer-term view in mind, he had said previously that he was not going to rush his return to the field. But he had been itching to get back as he watched his teammates take control of the Super Rugby competition, as they confirmed a home final for the first time since 2008.
“One of those driving forces was that I knew if I could get back, I could have a big impact at us having a crack at this championship,” Read said. “It really pushed me.”
“I think when I played that final [2008 Super Rugby in Christchurch] as a 22-year-old, you just turn up as a young fellow, play the game and celebrate and move on.
“It didn’t really sink in too much. You thought ‘oh this will come around again’ but it is a tough competition.
“To be here again is exciting.”