Jerome Kaino: 'The Lions can enjoy their holiday in Queenstown, we would rather train'
Jerome Kaino, the All Black flanker, said he would “rather be training” than enjoying the recreational delights of Queenstown, where the Lions rode jet boats while New Zealand completed their inquest into the second Test defeat before returning to the practice pitch “energised and keen to get into it,” according to Kaino.
The All Blacks mostly resisted the urge to score psychological points off the Lions over their day off in the country’s ‘outdoor paradise’ - but Ian Foster, the assistant coach, took exception to being reminded that Warren Gatland had said the Lions were yet to be “stressed” by New Zealand’s attacking play. Foster said: “I’m not surprised he’s having a relaxing week in Queenstown then, if that’s what he thinks.”
“I’d rather be training, to be honest,” Kaino said. “Yeah, although jet boating in Queenstown does sound pretty good. I’m sure they’ve thrown some training in there somewhere, but hey, if that’s what they think will get the best out of their players, then good on them.
“But for us, we’ve got a lot of improvements to make in how we want to play in wide areas, so we’re just worried about we’re going to do.”
Foster, who may find himself in competition with Gatland for the All Blacks coaching job, said: “Look, everyone’s got their own different way of doing things. We like to switch on and switch off as well. These guys are doing it their way, and you’ve got to factor in the fact that they’ve been here a decent amount of time on tour. This is our fourth week together, so we trust our routines. They probably trust theirs as well.”
Yet Foster was not in the mood for bonhomie. Asked whether Gatland was finally getting the credit he deserves in his homeland, Steve Hansen’s No 2 said: “My understanding is that it’s 1-1 in a series and we want to make sure we’re the successful ones at the end of the week. What happens to them, I’m not sure.”
About the only recreational break-out spotted in downtown Auckland was Kieran Read, the captain, in a barber’s chair next to the team hotel. While Kaino and Sam Whitelock spoke of “good learnings” from Monday night’s post mortem, a Tuesday training session was said to be full of “edge.’
The All Blacks are not discouraging comparisons between Saturday’s decider here and a World Cup final. “It definitely has that feel,” Kaino said. “The excitement we had at training today backs that up. The Lions are a great side and there’s a lot of history between these teams, so being one-all it does have that feeling about it. I’m getting excited about the prospect of being able to play them.”
Whitelock meanwhile denied the All Blacks’ self-esteem has been shaken by defeats to Ireland and the Lions inside eight months. “I don’t think there’s any damage to our confidence,” he said. “We know we’ve got to worry about ourselves first this week. It started with a very good review and those conversations have carried on through yesterday and today. It’s making sure we take the learnings from there.”
While the two centre positions are the main selection dilemma, there is mounting pressure on Beauden Barrett, the team’s golden boy, who has not shone so far. “This series for him, as with all our players, it means a lot, and he wants to make a mark,” Foster said. “I’m sure he’ll do that, but he’s professional enough to know that it’s not all about him.
“He’s been leading this group magnificently. He showed a lot of composure and class with the way he went about things in the circumstances [in Wellington]. It probably didn’t suit his style and yet he got us to a really nice position. I don’t know the last time he has had 10 shots at goal from penalties. We had so many penalties coming our way and that changed the way we had to play, because we weren’t able to get beyond the first couple of rucks.”
Constant discussions about “physicality” and “discipline” have highlighted the problem in modern rugby for players seeking to dominate opponents in a high-speed game while staying on the right side of the law. “Yeah, as you saw at the weekend both teams are quite keen to get amongst it,” Kaino said. “But as we saw, discipline is a huge part of it. It’s a way to let either side off the hook.
“We’re not going to go out there being cautious about anything. We definitely want to impose ourselves physically, like they did at the weekend. It’s definitely an area we want to improve in. I’m sure they’ll improve as well. On the discipline side, we’re going to have to be on top of that.”
Foster spoke of those grey areas from a coaching perspective: “That’s the line, isn’t it? That’s the beauty of these sort of games, where it’s a deciding Test, you know there’s a lot at stake and everyone’s trying to impose themselves physically. It’s whether you are smart enough to control that, and be effective with it. It’s something we work hard at.
“We have to make sure we’re totally under control but bring the physicality. The two Tests have been quite noticeable - in one, we won that battle, and in one they won that battle. It shows how important it is.”
But Foster was not getting into Mako Vunipola’s conduct in Wellington and whether he should have been sent off or cited. He called the question “naughty.”