AUCKLAND (Reuters) - All Blacks captain Kieran Read has downplayed a personal milestone of earning his 100th test cap as his side finalised their preparations for the series-deciding third test against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park on Saturday.
The match has been painted as the most important in New Zealand since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, but it has shared the back pages and sports news bulletins this week with the arrival home of New Zealand’s successful America’s Cup team.
Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling visited the team’s final training run on Friday, while former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was also an interested spectator.
“He’s a good man, we’ve had him in before,” Read told reporters about Burling’s visit to Eden Park, where the 26-year-old sailor was applauded by fans in the main stand.
“The boys were pretty pumped about what his team could do with the America’s Cup and bringing it back. We just wanted to congratulate him.”
Read was just as happy to deflect attention from the fact he will become the seventh All Black to reach the 100-cap milestone after McCaw (148), Keven Mealamu (132), Tony Woodcock (118), Dan Carter (112), Ma‘a Nonu (103) and Mils Muliaina (100).
“As a kid you just want to play for the All Blacks,” said Read, who made his test debut against Scotland in 2008.
”That was the dream and it’s pretty awesome to be living the reality right now.
“It’s a pretty cool place to be. I didn’t expect to be in this position. I’ll get my joy out of it by going out there and getting the win.”
The team is what has driven the All Blacks culture in recent years and coach Steve Hansen, while pleased for Read’s milestone, said it and Aaron Cruden and Charlie Faumuina’s 50th test appearances, had barely been discussed.
”To play one test is a massive achievement, to play 100 is fantastic,“ Hansen said. ”(But) there hasn’t been a lot of talk about it. It’s hardly been raised actually.
“That’s the mark of the man himself.”
Read was more keen on atoning for the 24-21 defeat at thee hands of the Lions last week in Wellington, which allowed the series to be sent to Saturday’s deciding match after he had inspired his team to a 30-15 victory in the first game.
“We weren’t really happy with the way we played last week so certainly we’ve got to make a change... the boys are pretty confident with what we’ve got in our group,” he said.
“It’s a pretty exciting challenge. It doesn’t get any better than playing at Eden Park in what is in a sense a final.”
Read, who succeeded McCaw as captain after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, has stamped his own mark on the team, who have taken the game to a new level from the side widely considered to have been the best of the professional age.
”The All Black captaincy is pretty special to me,“ Read said. ”I certainly respect it and want to honour it the best I can and the best way to do that is to be myself.
“The biggest thing for me is to do my bit and help the team and get the win.”
Editing by John O'Brien