Thursday 21 September 2017

'Every team is doing it' - Jerome Kaino defends All Blacks 'blocking' tactics

Jerome Kaino of the New Zealand All Blacks during a gym session at Les Mills in Auckland, New Zealand.
Jerome Kaino of the New Zealand All Blacks during a gym session at Les Mills in Auckland, New Zealand.

Mick Cleary

All Black flanker, Jerome Kaino, has hit back at Warren Gatland’s assertion that New Zealand teams are using illegal tactics when it comes to blocking opponents at re-starts and in open play.

The Lions raised the issue with match officials during the game against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday and will do so again with the same referee from that game, South African, Jaco Peyper, prior to the first test against the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday. Gatland insisted that the practice of wilful obstruction is more prevalent in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.

“It’s part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams at the moment are doing it,” said Gatland. Kaino, the longest-serving player in the All Black squad, rejected the claims.

“It is not (particular) to New Zealand teams,” said Kaino, from the training base in Auckland. “Every other team does the same. You play the fine margins and if you play to those limits I don’t see anything wrong. As long as you are within the rules, I don’t see any problem.”

Kaino has no concerns that the Lions will put undue pressure on Peyper on Saturday in the belief that they have been denied several tries on this trip by such tactics. The Lions could be heard pointing out such misdemeanours on Saturday night with the result that the South African did warn the Maori All Blacks to be careful in what they were doing.

"We can't really go into a game worrying about what the ref is going to rule on how we play the game,” said Kaino, restored to full fitness after recent injuries and prominent during his side’s 78-0 win over Samoa at Eden Park last Friday.

“We have a game that we want to play, and we will try to play that as well as we can. Within that 80 minutes, it is just a matter of how fast we adapt and adjust. You have just got to play to the whistle. For us, it is a matter of focussing on our strengths as much as possible. He (Jaco Peyper) is pretty good in how he communicates to the players in terms of what's going on and what he wants. As a player, you always want to know what he [the referee] needs from you, and that is all you can ask for.”

Such has been the chippy interface between Gatland and Steve Hansen, the pair exchanging barbs on various matters, that the Lions head coach stated that his All Blacks counterpart must be ‘worried’ about what is headed his way. Kaino, 34, a veteran of such situations, revealed that the New Zealand coach did not seem in the least bit rattled.  

“He was still his cheeky self this morning, cracking jokes, so I haven't seen anything out of the ordinary,” said Kaino.

What is detectable is the upturn in edge and intensity in the All Black camp as they prepare to meet the British and Irish Lions for the first time in 12 years. Kaino, 34, played for Auckland against the 2005 Lions, narrowly (17-13) missing out on a victory. Kaino has been one of the star-turns of New Zealand rugby, featuring in all seven matches as they won the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2011 and being nominated for International Player of the Year. A two year stint in Japan took the native of American Samoa out of All Black reckoning but he has returned as an even more dynamic force. He is relishing what lies ahead.     

“It kicked in last week when we got into camp and is starting to amplify now that we are finally getting to the first Lions Test,” said Kaino.

“The Lions Tests in 2005 were amazing, how the whole country got amongst it and all the Lions fans added to everything. It was a great time to be in New Zealand and it is a similar feeling this time around. You don't think your professional career is going to last more than 10 years, and I feel blessed to be able to be here and have been around for this long.

"The Lions fans add to the Test match atmosphere whether they are supporting you or not. Any Test match you play, home or away, has always got pressure. You always want to measure yourself against the best, and the way the northern hemisphere teams have been playing for the last couple of years, especially in the forwards, has definitely set standards.”

New Zealand name their team on Thursday with captain, Kieran Read, expected to be fit after recovering from a broken thumb and centre, Ryan Crotty, also recovered from a rib injury.

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