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Lynn McConnell

Southland-born Lynn McConnell is a sportswriter/historian with 40 years experience in journalism having been sports editor of The Evening Post and The Southland Times. Lynn has written several books including 'Behind the Silver Fern: Playing Rugby for New Zealand' together with Tony Johnson.

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Kieran Read: All Blacks Centurion

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allblacks.com     07 Jul 2017     Getty Images

Coming off the back of the Crusaders last Investec Super Rugby competition win in 2008, and after he had successfully made the switch from blindside flanker to No.8, Read had all the looks of a stayer from the outset.

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Now he stands one Test away from becoming the latest All Black to achieve 100 Test matches, but under the circumstances that milestone will be far from his mind as the greater demand is for him as captain to preside over a series win against the British & Irish Lions.

The visitors have provided his side with the greatest challenge they are likely to face outside of a Rugby World Cup, and it is one which has captivated New Zealand, even in the midst of America's Cup triumphs.

Having come into professional rugby with a keen sense of balance, the result of a promising schoolboy career in cricket, Read made rapid progress after his Canterbury debut in 2006. The Crusaders grabbed him for the 2007 season and the All Blacks followed suit a year later and Read made his Test debut against Scotland on the end of season tour.

By the time the team returned home, he could claim the No.8 position as his own, after supplanting the incumbent Rodney So'oialo. A taller player than So'oialo, and with litheness which suggested the all-important quality of speed in support, Read soon impressed and became an integral part of the loose forwards in partnership with captain and fellow Crusader Richie McCaw and generally blindside flanker Jerome Kaino. His ball skills ensured the All Blacks enjoyed weight of numbers in lineout options, an area that has been a key part of Read's game.

In 2010, when he led the All Blacks for the first time – in the 42-10 win over Italy in Rome - so well did he perform that he was named New Zealand's Rugby Player of the Year, which considering the abilities of those he was in competition with was a notable achievement.

As New Zealand geared up to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup seeking to also have the All Blacks redeem themselves after the disappointments of 2007, Read was by then an integral part of the side. But in the final game before the tournament, the 20–25 loss to Australia in Brisbane, he limped from the field early in the game with a high ankle strain.
It was to be the final pool game against Canada before Read returned to the side followed by the quarter-final against Argentina. Then it was the Australian side in the semi-final and against whom Read had been injured.

The All Blacks triumphed and Read went on to be part of the second All Blacks team to claim the World Cup in the exciting final with France.

With the World Cup chokers claim lifted from their shoulders, the All Blacks set about re-establishing themselves at the top of the world with another strong season in 2012 and while there was disappointment at losing to England, the 2013 year was to provide some stunning evidence of the heights the side could go to.

Read led his first All Blacks Test at home against France during the June window of that year as McCaw was in the midst of a sabbatical. Injury to McCaw during the Championship saw more captaincy experience for Read but by the time the All Blacks travelled for the return game in South Africa, McCaw was back and Read was able to concentrate on his own game. It is rare that he has played at the height he reached in what was quite the most outstanding game of rugby between the two old rivals.

The No.8 was in the action from the outset, ranging wide as well as contributing in the tight-loose exchanges. It was his set-up work that provided a try for Ben Smith and then after having to come from behind Read scored the final try as the All Blacks gained their bonus point 38-27 win.

They went on their northern tour with a chance to be the first side in the professional era to complete an unbeaten season. A win over England reversed their loss from the previous year and at the end of it all, the All Blacks needed to draw on all the sort of class they had shown in South Africa, against Ireland, to keep their hopes intact. 
It took until the 83rd minute but Ryan Crotty scored and Aaron Cruden converted to secure the win 24-22. Read's efforts during the year were sufficient to see him acclaimed as World Rugby's Player of the Year.

It's not enough to say that if you are around long enough awards and milestones must eventually come your way. Read had earned his status by consistency of performance, often at a level higher than his peers.

A controversial last-minute decision in the Super Rugby final of 2014 against the Waratahs denied Read, as Crusaders' captain, the chance to lift the winner's trophy. Referee Craig Joubert penalised McCaw and Bernard Foley did the rest for the Sydneysiders to win 33-32 but later contacted coach Todd Blackadder to apologise for his wrong call.

If there is a defining image of Read's skills in most minds it will be from the 2014 encounter against the Springboks in Wellington. It was a tight game and early in the second half the All Blacks were behind 6-7. But a Cruden cross-kick found Read perfectly-placed to take the ball, only to be wrapped in a tackle by Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers.

Showing immense strength – de Villiers was not a small man – Read stood in his, and wing Bryan Habana's, who had joined the fray, tackle long enough to find McCaw coming across in support to flick him the ball to score what proved the match-winning try in the 14-10 win.

In the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup, Read became the highest scoring All Blacks No.8 by scoring against Argentina, his 18th try, and sufficient to take him past Zinzan Brooke's mark.

If his role in the 2011 World Cup was reduced, the opposite was the case in 2015 as he played in every game in New Zealand's triumph.

It was in the wake of that campaign that he entered the latest phase of his career as permanent All Blacks captain after the retirement of McCaw. It has been well publicised how much of a prospective dent the departure of McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock would have, but so seamless has the operation that Read and coach Steve Hansen run that the impact has been minimal.

A perfect Rugby Championship with bonus points in every game was evidence enough, and while a first loss to Ireland was suffered in Chicago last November, the side turned the result around two weeks later in Dublin.

His broken wrist made it touch and go that he would get to complete his 100th Test by playing all three Tests against the Lions, but he managed it perfectly and can put the icing on the cake at Eden Park on Saturday.