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Why Kieran Read won't be remembered as an all-time great

Kieran Read. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Richie McCaw’s as relevant today as he ever was.

Every word he utters, often in some paid ambassadorial role, is reported as headline news. So are the thoughts and deeds of his hockey-playing wife Gemma, along with the development of their infant daughter.

It’s not what McCaw says that counts. He rarely said anything of note in his playing days and even less now in rugby retirement.

Yet he remains a beloved and revered figure in New Zealand and a man who still commands respect in other nations. Captaining a team to two Rugby World Cup titles will do that for a bloke.

It’s been interesting, then, to contrast McCaw with his successor.

Kieran Read effectively retired from rugby the moment New Zealand lost October’s world cup semifinal to England. Yes there was a playoff for third and fourth to negotiate, while club football in Japan still awaits Read but, to all intents and purposes, he’s done.

That’s meant a recent book and promotional tour, in an effort to connect with people beyond the All Blacks and their acolytes.

Read was a very good player, in his day. But there’s no world cup title on his captaincy CV, nor the kinds of performances in recent years that would have him in the great category as a footballer.

Both of his big captaincy assignments – the 2017 British and Irish Lions’ series and last year’s World Cup – saw the All Blacks fail to emerge victorious. Injuries didn’t help Read’s own play either and there was a feeling he’d become something of a specialist skipper by the end.

Some people don’t like to hear that. They want allowances made for the head knocks and back problems or to emphasise the significance of Read’s leadership skills.

We somehow got to the point last year where these defenders of the faith demanded Read be given a prize, and certainly an apology, on the occasions when his play lived up to his reputation.

Well, if he was that good, he wouldn’t have spent so much time at blindside flanker. As it was, Ardie Savea’s claims to the No.8 jersey were so strong that he and Read ended up job sharing.

It’s hard to imagine many other players being accommodated in that fashion, but so much store appeared to have been put in Read – and the number on his back – that starting him at blindside or leaving him out of the team was unthinkable.

Savea finished the year by winning all the big prizes at the New Zealand Rugby Awards, despite the job-sharing arrangement. We’ll never know how good Savea might’ve been with sole possession of the No.8 jumper, although the team’s results offer a clue.

Read, and the team, were utterly outplayed by England in the only game of consequence they encountered last year. In a match that would help define Read’s own legacy, the All Blacks were found badly wanting.

That doesn’t make Read a bad person or a bad player. But it does mean that he’s unlikely to be especially relevant in retirement or remembered as an all-time great.

McCaw’s got that market cornered for a wee while yet.

Life After Rugby – Andy Powell:

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