Jerome Kaino will be looking to make a strong return to Test rugby against England in Auckland on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Kaino returned to New Zealand at the end of 2013 after spending two years in Japan, where he played for Toyota Verblitz. The 31-year-old has since made a seamless move from blindside flank to No 8, which is where he will start on Saturday after Kieran Read, who last weekend played his first game since suffering concussion in April, woke up on Monday 'not feeling the best'. Kaino excelled at eighthman during the Blues' 37-24 win against the Hurricanes last weekend and will be hoping for a similar performance in the All Blacks' first outing of 2014.
With Dan Carter still on his sabbatical, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has opted for Aaron Cruden at 10 ahead of the in-form Beauden Barrett, who is on the bench. Cruden has looked rusty in the one and a half matches he has played for the Chiefs since returning from a lengthy spell on the sidelines because of a thumb injury, but you'd still expect him to win his battle against Freddie Burns, who is at 10 for England because Owen Farrell played for Saracens in last Saturday's Premiership final.
None of those involved in that domestic decider are available for the first of three Tests, with just seven players who started against Italy in the Six Nations included in the starting XV (captain Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown, Danny Care, Joe Launchbury, Jonny May, Ben Morgan and David Wilson).
The visitors' match 23 has a no-name look about it, so you could perhaps forgive All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick for being unable to name a single England player earlier this week (he could only come up with 'Michael Lawes' when thinking of lock Courtney Lawes). That ignorance of northern hemisphere rugby may fire up Stuart Lancaster's side, but they still won't be good enough to beat the world champions.
England have only beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand twice in 12 meetings – 16-10 in Auckland in 1973 and 15-13 in Wellington in 2003. The last time they toured, in 2008, they lost 37-20 in Auckland and 44-12 in Christchurch.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 28, England 7, Drew 1
In New Zealand: All Blacks 10, England 2
KAINO'S STATS THAT MATTER
48 – The number of Test caps he has
8 – The number of Test tries he's scored
85 – His win percentage with the All Blacks
23-10-2011 – The date when he last played for the All Blacks (World Cup final)
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Cory Jane, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Victor Vito, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Joe Marler
Subs: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Chris Pennell.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images