Kieran Read has 100 reasons why he needs to be fit for the first Lions test.
The All Blacks captain has played 97 tests and if his broken thumb allows it, he will hit the century in the third and final test of the British and Irish series, at Eden Park.
He’s confident he will be ready.
“It’s feeling a lot better than it was,” Read says, adding that it’s taken a fair bit of adjusting to life as a temporarily one-handed person. Nappy duties with his 4-month-old son Reuben were shelved, and though he has been able to run, he’s been limited in what he can do in the gym.
If he does play that first test on June 24, it will be eight weeks since his last game, but he isn’t worried.
“At the 2011 World Cup I missed the first three games with an ankle injury, so I’m used to it and I’ve played enough test matches to know what to expect.”
Read debuted for the All Blacks against Scotland at Murrayfield in November 2008.
Since then the All Blacks have played another 114 tests. Read has missed just 16.
“It shows how physically resilient he is,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says. “That will be tested though in this series because he’s had such a long time out. But he’s a big man, a tough man, with great mental fortitude.”
A bit like the bloke he replaced as All Blacks skipper.
Comparisons between Read and Richie McCaw are inevitable, but can be misleading.
In his 148 tests, McCaw captained the All Blacks 111 times. He set the tone for how they would play and how the big black machine ran off the field – and few were ever left to wonder what he wanted.
In 2012 when the Tri-Nations became the Rugby Championship with the inclusion of the Pumas, the All Blacks had to play Argentina in Buenos Aires one week, then the Springboks in Johannesburg a week later.
Training on the Thursday at Wits University on a dry and hot afternoon, the All Blacks were sloppy. Very sloppy.
McCaw pulled them aside and let rip. Yes, he said, we are tired, jet lagged and it’s hot. Yes we are still sore from the Pumas match. None of that matters. We will, he said, feel the same way when the Springboks smash into us on Saturday. It’s all mental. Get over it.
The All Blacks finished training without a ball being dropped and beat South Africa 32-16 two days later.
Read is not a barker; he’s unlikely to tear into a teammate, he tries to be an inclusive leader. He does, though, concede “there are times when you have to be direct to get the message across”.
It’s unfair, though, to suggest either captain has a better style – they are just different.
“One is from Kurow and the other is from South Auckland. It’s pretty simple,” says Hansen. “They just have different upbringings.”
McCaw’s style obviously worked as he captained the All Blacks through a period of stunning success, including back-to-back World Cups – the first team to achieve that feat.
But his way was strict, no-nonsense, almost literally black and white.
Liam Messam recounts a story that saw a new issue of boots arrive for the All Blacks to wear – many of them a wide variety of bright colours. Some of the backs, men like Nonu and Julian Savea, had already strutted their stuff in hot pink or bright yellow.
As the All Blacks forwards opened their boxes, the standard black boots were there, along with some of the colourful variety.
“We looked over at the skip, and he simply shook his head. No words were needed,” Messam remembers. The coloured boots were put away.
Read loves a bit of colour.
“It’s hard for me to compare how I lead to Richie, that’s for others to judge, but there is a different feel to the team,” Read says.
“I get on with a lot of people on a one-on-one basis and I’m a guy who cares and wants to get the best out of people.”
When McCaw captained the All Blacks he used his leadership group a lot to run the team, people like Keven Mealamu and Jerome Kaino, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith.
He isn’t as gregarious as Read, who was once asked on live TV at the annual New Zealand Rugby Awards after being named player of the year, what he hadn’t achieved that season. “Getting my wife pregnant,” he said.
Where McCaw and Read are similar is their determination to see the All Blacks succeed and their drive to be the best.
“When I first made the All Blacks I just tried to soak up as much as I could,” Read says. “The atmosphere within the All Blacks was huge. But I set myself goals. I didn’t want to just make up the numbers.”
Those numbers are now pretty impressive. In his 97 tests the All Blacks have won 85 times. In the 22 times he has been captain they have lost just once – to Ireland in Chicago last year.
“When you pull on the black jersey and run out with your mates, it’s the best time of the week. Times have changed but I still get a massive kick out of pulling on that jersey.”
The odds are he will do it for the first test, setting himself up to do it for the 100th time in that third and final test joining six legends of the game, former teammates all of them in McCaw, Mealamu, Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Mils Muliaina.
“Getting one test,” says Hansen, “is a massive achievement. To play 100 takes a very special player”.
It will be a special night.