Have we seen the last of Jerome Kaino in a black jersey?
The double World Cup winner – who could quite easily have been player of the tournament at both – is now facing the stark reality of New Zealand rugby: if you give up your jersey for any reason, despite the coaching team’s stated respect for the incumbent, then you run the very real risk of losing it forever.
Who will ever forget his tackle on Digby Ioane in the 2011 semi-final, not only stopping the Wallaby cold at the goal-line, but then tucking the burly winger under his arm and slowly making his way back towards the 22?
He is a giant of a man in a way that statistics cannot reflect. My oldest, who was a budding blindside, got to stand next to Jerome in Wellington after the Canada game in 2011 and declared it would impossible for him to either do enough weights or eat enough calories to ever get that big. He’s a good couple of pick handles across the shoulders.
But with Sam Cane owning the narrow channels and the gain-line in dominant fashion, the make up of the All Black 6 jersey has changed.
Steve Hansen has stated that aggression and the ability to dominate contests are non-negotiable for his blindside, but given so much of the New Zealand game is based around metres gained by the loose trio, then the new-look 6 is going to have an enhanced ability as a ball carrier.
Liam Squire has looked an international from the minute he put the black jersey on – shoulders are thrown into tackles with reckless abandon and enthusiasm, the protection of the narrow channels on defence is sacrosanct, his lateral D is excellent, his ball-running in both the tight and wider out has been demonstrated as Test standard, and he is a better-than-useful lineout option.
It is a happy plus for the PR department that his haircut is generating a cult-like following.
Under the coming new laws, there is a real possibility that all back-rows will end up with two 6.5s and an 8 in the makeup. If that is the case, does Kaino have the required leg speed to keep up?
Age and the claims of others, not personal ability, will likely be the deciding factors by the time 2019 rolls around.
If we have seen the last of Jerome Kaino in black, then I would like to be the first to say thanks very much.