It’s natural to assume that if Jerome Kaino is selected this week in Brisbane, he will be playing to protect his future.
But in actual fact, he’ll be doing what he can to protect his past. It won’t be his career at stake – it will be his legacy as Kaino is in danger of being remembered for all the wrong reasons.
He’s played 83 tests, made thousands of telling tackles, scared the living daylights out of players across the globe, bled for the cause, hammered the ball up the middle of the field without a whimper for 12 seasons and deserved the right to sign off, when the time comes, as a great All Black.
If there are young blindsides emerging into the professional ranks not sure of expectations on how to fulfil their role, get them on youtube to watch tribute videos of Kaino and that will clear things up in five minutes.
Selfless, controlled and damaging have all been part of the Kaino portfolio.
He’s been somewhat focused on the need to be an enforcer and while there are memorable examples of his destructive tackling scattered across the last decade – his thunderous hit on Welsh lock Bradley Davies in 2010 and buckling of Digby Ioane in the World Cup semifinal being the best – in a sense they are actually misleading.
They hint of a player who looked for the spectacular hit rather than someone who was relentlessly driven to impose himself.
The more telling evidence of Kaino’s influence has been in the detail of his statistics.
In the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal he managed a staggering 90 per cent of dominant tackles – a massive contributing factor to the incredible performance the All Blacks produced that night.
But here Kaino is now, with so much good behind him, so many great memories and so much respect, and yet it could be that in time, mention of his name doesn’t evoke those classic memories and knowing nods, but instead it will ignite blokes across the country to nudge each other, wink and make goofy smiles at one another.
Kaino’s off field indescretion has the potential to wipe out 12 years of world class rugby and become the thing that he is tagged with for the rest of his days.
It can’t surely end like that for him? Kaino can’t let that be the way he signs off. Steve Hansen won’t want that to be Kaino’s fate either but there is only so much the All Blacks coach can do for his player.
Hansen can’t pick Kaino on sentiment. He can’t give Kaino time in the jersey he hasn’t earned. Team must come first and Hansen acknowledged on arrival in Brisbane that Kaino has had limited rugby at any level in the last few months and that is a complicating factor.
“Probably not,” Hansen said when asked whether Kaino had enough football under his belt. “But there is no other way. How else do you do it? You can’t invent a game that is why we will have to pick and choose when we play him.”
All Kaino can do is hope that this week is deemed by Hansen to be the right one to give the vertan flanker game time.
And it it is, only Kaino can save himself after that by nailing whatever game time comes his way.
That’s it. If he plays in Brisbane, everyone has to see classic Kaino. There has to be compelling evidence that he’s still a world class force; still hungry and still a better prospect than the emerging Akira Ioane.
If he can do that, he can buy himself more time in the squad and the more he can play – the more he can put distance between him and his off field indescretion.
In short, Kaino needs a couple of big tests between now and the end of the year to restore some kind of balance in the public perception of what and who he is.