Kieran Read to join Japanese side Toyota Verblitz to end All Blacks career as Steve Hansen questions Ireland

The Crusaders No 8 will end his international career after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which Hansen has his attentions on after looking to bounce back from their defeat against the Irish last November

Wednesday 06 March 2019 10:13
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Kieran Read will retire from international rugby at the end of 2019 to join Toyota Verblitz
Kieran Read will retire from international rugby at the end of 2019 to join Toyota Verblitz

New Zealand captain Kieran Read will bow out from Test rugby after the Rugby World Cup later this year.

The Crusaders No 8, who has won 118 caps and played in two All Blacks World Cup-winning teams, has confirmed he will leave New Zealand and join Japanese club Toyota Verblitz.

Read, 33, has skippered New Zealand 43 times, including in the drawn Test series against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.

In a statement released by the Crusaders and All Blacks, Read said: "Every young rugby player in New Zealand dreams of the opportunities I have had to represent the All Blacks and the Crusaders.

"And I know I will look back at the end of the year with a great deal of pride to have worn those jerseys for as long as I have.

"My family and I are looking forward to an overseas experience, and Japan presents an awesome opportunity to immerse ourselves in Japanese culture as part of the Toyota club.

"I feel the time is right to make this announcement on my playing future so that I can focus my efforts on the season ahead."

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen led the tributes to Read, who has enjoyed a 13-year career in New Zealand rugby. "On behalf of New Zealand Rugby and the All Blacks, I'd like to acknowledge the fantastic contribution that 'Reado' has made to our game," Hansen said.

"His performances on the park speak for themselves. He has played 118 Tests and started 111 of them, which is an outstanding achievement.

"However, that is only part of the Kieran Read story. His contribution off the park has been just as impressive.

"He has developed into a fantastic leader, who has the utmost respect of all his peers.

"What he has achieved has been remarkable, and it's fair to say that he is one of the greats of our game who has enhanced the legacy of not only the All Blacks jersey, but also the Crusaders jersey."

Read is expected to add to his 118 caps before he retires 

Hansen also offered his thoughts on the ongoing Six Nations and Ireland Rugby’s struggles in early 2019, just months after defeating his All Blacks side last November. Having gone from hunter to the "hunted" after a brilliant 2018 season, Ireland are struggling to deal with the pressure of being the "top dog" of world rugby, according to the New Zealand boss.

Six Nations Grand Slam winners last year, Ireland's title defence got off to a poor start with a 32-20 thrashing by England at home and they have yet to hit top gear in wins over Scotland and Italy.

The players have betrayed their frustrations, with fly-half Johnny Sexton tearing a strip off his teammates during the unconvincing win over Italy.

Hansen, whose world champion team suffered a stunning 16-9 loss to Ireland in November, their first ever defeat in Dublin, said great expectations around Joe Schmidt's side were taking a toll as the World Cup approached.

"I said it at the time when we played Ireland that whoever won that game was going to be viewed as the number one team in the world and everyone is going to chase them," Hansen said on Wednesday.

"For us that's something we've been used to. We've been ranked the number one team for 112 months now, I think, but people have seen Ireland as the top dog after they beat us, and that put a massive amount of expectation on the players and coaches.

"Instead of being the hunters they are the hunted and it's different. It's different when you're sitting at the top of the tree. It's a different experience. Not many teams cope with it that well."

Steve Hansen believes Ireland are struggling to cope with the pressure of expectation

Ireland are third on the Six Nations table on nine points behind leaders Wales (12) and England (10) but can keep their title defence alive with victory over France at home on Sunday.

Hansen was impressed with the quality of the rugby in the northern hemisphere tournament and said all six teams had improved ahead of the World Cup in Japan, which starts in September.

"They're all capable of knocking off a big team," he said. "There's been some brutal tests."

The All Blacks have to wait until the condensed Rugby Championship in July for their next test, leaving Hansen to monitor his World Cup prospects in Super Rugby.

Ireland have made a slow start to the Six Nations

Local media, accustomed to New Zealand dominating the mainly southern hemisphere tournament, have been dismayed by the poor start of some of the nation's teams, with the Blues and Waikato Chiefs winless after the opening three rounds.

Hansen was unconcerned, however, and said a policy to rest and limit the playing minutes of All Blacks to try and keep them fresh for the World Cup was always going to have an impact.

"I don't get too carried away with Super Rugby until halfway through, then you start to get a clearer picture about who is doing what," he said.

"You've got to give (the players) a break, and there's always a consequence for that break. To say New Zealand teams aren't playing well, I don't think that's a fair reflection of what's actually happening."

PA & Reuters

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