The All Blacks and Auckland Blues star Jerome Kaino spoke with The Roar‘s Greg Prichard on the upcoming international battles, focusing on the clashes with the Wallabies, as well as the Brisbane Global Tens, the Sonny Bill Williams injury and why he considers himself more of a team leader now than ever.
The Roar: Have you ever played tens rugby?
JK: Yes, I have, I played in a tournament in Hong Kong a while ago, in 2003. It was really different. There was still quite a physical element to it because of the forwards that play, but then you have the times where the bigger boys get a little bit tired and the speedy backs come into play.
The Roar: Was it a New Zealand representative team or a club side?
JK: It was a New Zealand Metro team, an invitational team. I was 20 at the time.
The Roar: Are you looking forward to having another crack at it in the Brisbane Global Tens in February?
JK: Yeah, I am. When they came up with the concept I was all for it. When they said it was going to be held at Suncorp Stadium I was even more encouraged because it’s one of the best stadiums in the world and the climate at that time of year will be nice and warm. We should see some really good rugby in those conditions.
The Roar: How would you see your role in a tens team?
JK: Probably similar to a lock role in a tight five in a 15s game, clearing rucks but also barging the ball up when you need to. It’s a long time since I played a tens game, so hopefully the tactics haven’t changed too much. Obviously it’s going to be faster than 15 a side.
The Roar: But you’ve got the mobility to handle what would be necessary at tens, haven’t you?
JK: Well, hopefully! I’ll definitely be doing some speed work in the off-season so I can put my hand up to be in the team.
The Roar: Have you played much sevens football?
JK: Yeah, I played Sevens for New Zealand in 2006 in France and England in a couple of tournaments, which was a rude awakening, but all good. Something a bit different.
The Roar: Sevens is obviously far removed from 15-a-side rugby, but tens is closer. How much closer, do you think?
JK: There’s still an element of sevens-type rugby in tens, but there’s a place for the big boys in tens. The set piece and the line-outs and scrums are still important. I like tens as a concept, I think it’s a good number because you’ve got the five forwards and five backs. The teams are going to have to be very tactical about who they pick in their forwards. You’ve got to have an element of mobility and speed to your team, but you’ve also got to have some bigger boys who can hold their own in set piece.
The Roar: The Rugby Championship is coming up. How do you think the All Blacks are placed right now?
JK: We’re just getting into gear as a team, so we’ve got a lot of combinations to get into place. The Wallabies are dangerous, they’ve had a few weeks together now and I’m sure they’ve solidified a lot of combinations. You look at their side and it’s a world-class team that’s very dangerous, so for us, getting together this week, we’re going to have to make sure the time we spend together counts.
The Roar: Were you happy with the team’s most recent results, in the 3-0 series win over Wales?
JK: Yeah , I think so. We lost a lot of experienced players after last year’s World Cup, but we’ve had a new crew of leaders come through and we’ve put in some good performances. But the northern hemisphere teams were coming to the end of their season and were looking forward to a break.
Once you get into The Rugby Championship it’s a whole new ball game. We know each other so well as teams, and when you get sides playing for a Bledisloe Cup everything intensifies and that pressure does something to teams. So, looking forward to it and although I think we’re behind the eight-ball in terms of preparation we’ll be ready once the whistle blows.
The Roar: You were already a leader in the team, but with the retirements of Richie McCaw and others you must now feel like you’re as senior a player and as important a leader as you can get.
JK: Yeah, I do, I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer in support to Kieran (Read) as skipper and I’ve been around long enough to know what happens and how the team should operate. The responsibility of being a leader is something that I love and it gets me excited.
The Roar: You sound like you thrive on it. Are you a big talker on the field?
JK: I wouldn’t say a big talker, but definitely if something needs to be said I try to speak up. But, like with anything, actions speak louder than words, so when you do speak you try to make your own actions follow your words.
The Roar: How did you feel about losing Sonny Bill Williams for The Rugby Championship? The news must have hit hard.
JK: Yeah, it’s a big blow. I feel sorry for him, knowing how hard he worked to get there (the Rio Olympics, with the New Zealand Sevens side) and to get injured like that in the first game is heart-breaking. To lose him for the All Blacks is a huge loss for us, but he’ll be back. He’ll re-set, and in the meantime I’m sure whoever replaces him will do the job.
The Roar: So you’re not angry about losing a star player like Sonny Bill Williams at the Olympics? Do you see playing there as another opportunity for sportsmen who want to achieve goals?
JK: No, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed he won’t be with us because you always want someone of the calibre of Sonny Bill to be a part of your team. But that’s the risk you take whenever you play sport – injury can happen. But, as I said, it opens the door for someone else and we’ll see what they’ve got.
The Roar: Do you see tens as a bit like cricket in terms of what rugby is doing with reduced forms of the game, trying to attract new fans?
JK: Yeah, I think so, and I think the quicker version of the game, the speed of the game, is attractive to fans. Tens still has the big contact, but it also has that element of expansive play. So, similar to cricket with Twenty20, it’s another attractive form of the game for the fans to watch and get involved in.
The Roar: And if it can attract new fans, can that be a way of getting them interested in the 15-a-side game as well, just by getting them in the door?
JK: Yeah, exactly, and hopefully when the tens is played, because it’s not as technical as 15-a-side, new fans will be able to get a good appreciation of how the game works while also being excited to see some open rugby being played.
The Brisbane Global Tens will be played at Suncorp Stadium on February 11-12. For ticketing information visit the official Brisbane Global Tens website. For official travel packages from outside of Brisbane to the Brisbane Global Tens visit here.