©INPHO/Photosport/Andrew Cornaga
Number 1

All Blacks not better, more fluid than World Cup winners — Kieran Read

The number eight is blessed with an endless array of skills. How do Ireland stop him?

‘A TOUCH OF Zinzan Brooke, a touch of Buck Shelford…”

Yep, the plaudits keep on coming for Kieran Read and none of them seem to go far enough.

The above attempt of All Black alchemy comes from former captain Sean Fitzpatrick speaking even before the first quarter tour-de-force which looked to have killed off English hopes of two consecutive wins over the world’s number one team.

On 17 minutes, he was on the end of a subtle piece of Israel Dagg brilliance to bound past Ben Foden and in for his 15th international try – a record for a number eight.

YouTube credit:  Rugby Highlights

What makes Read the only sensible choice for the IRB Player of the Year though, is not the tries. Along with the clinical clear-outs, the shuddering tackles, athleticism under a high ball Read possesses the hands of an out-half.

Read’s try-assists have been the most dazzling part of his arsenal in 2013. His latest came in Twickenham last week after Dan Carter had misplaced a pass onto the turf.

As Read took the ball up the left touchline his obvious danger sucked in three tacklers intent on heaving him over the touchline. They imagined a guttural roar of approval from the Twickers set. Instead, they looked up to see Julian Savea putting the ball down.

Read had delivered a sleight of hand that would scarcely have been believable if he had not already displayed better in this campaign. Try this one to set up Aaron Smith on for size.

YouTube credit: Rugby Highlights

To stop New Zealand, Ireland must stop Read. How they do that is anybody’s guess. Hell, even if he ends up in Jamie Heaslip’s pocket there are 14 others itching to prove themselves before Steve Hansen begins to really put a shape on his World Cup squad.

The scary thing is that Read, while reluctantly admitting he is in pretty good form himself, feels the All Blacks are a way short of their best. Having climbed the mountain in South Africa, London and Paris have felt like a hard slog. Still, they’re a better side now than when they won the World Cup right?

“I think we’re playing a better style than we were back then,” says Read.

“It’s hard to compare to back then, it’s apples to apples really. Certainly the culture is great at the moment and we’re playing a better style of footy – We’re a team that likes to play well and win playing well, so we’re hoping to do that this week.”

The dynamic number eight brushed off suggestions that they were in good shape for another World Cup, pointing out a ‘pretty average’ 2009 two years out from their overdue Webb Ellis success in Auckland.

For now, Read and his All Blacks are only thinking about one game, one game to give them a peaceful summer back home without that bitter taste of defeat that lingered through their last off-season.

I’m not stepping into Dan Carter’s shoes, I wear my own — Aaron Cruden

Snapshot: Cousins Cooper and Maitland trade international jerseys

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