Jerome Kaino to fight for ABs jersey

Jerome Kaino still believes he has something to offer the All Blacks, and he's grateful the team has been there for him through the most difficult time in his career.

Kaino spoke publicly for the first time since his prolonged period away from the All Blacks dealing with personal issues in London on Wednesday in the lead up to Saturday's November tour opener against the Barbarians at Twickenham.

The veteran 81-test loose forward has not played for the All Blacks since the Lions series ended back in July, and he appeared to have been supplanted in the No 6 pecking order by Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita during the Rugby Championship.

But Steve Hansen and his coaching team have stayed loyal to a man who was a key figure in both their back-to-back World Cup triumphs, and the 34-year-old Aucklander looks a good chance to resume his international career with a spot in the lineup to face the Baabaas on Saturday (early Sunday NZT).

It was a clearly emotional Kaino who spoke to the media at the team hotel in London as he discussed his absence from the team in the wake of the opening Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney when revelations around his private life came out in the Australian media.

Kaino said he hadn't had the chance to ponder whether his international career might have been over during his extended break from the team, but made it clear it had been a difficult period to work through.

"I didn't think too much of it with things outside of footy I've been focused on," he said. "It has been special watching the next crop of guys take their opportunities. Vaea and Liam have been playing awesome, but it's driven me to work harder to take the chances that might come in the future."

Kaino was adamant that he still had something to offer the All Blacks and was motivated to continue an international career that began all the way back in 2004 against the same opposition they meet on Saturday, and at the same venue.

"I still feel like I've got a lot of footy left in me and I'm still driven to work hard every day to fight for a position," he vowed. "But if I'm not involved, which I haven't been for the last five weeks, I've managed to refocus my energy and time into making sure the guys who do run out are fully prepared."

The rugged loose forward then admitted that rugby had been a godsend for him through the difficult process of getting his personal life back on track.

"It has been tough but I've been able to deal with that away from the team. The coaches, the All Blacks and the rugby union have been great. It's going to take a lot of time, but I've been able to use rugby as an escape to be able to focus on something else when I'm away from that. But it's an ongoing process."

Had it been the hardest time in his career?

"Yeah, I'd say so," he responded. "The team and coaches have been awesome in creating a positive distraction away from that.

"There have been a lot of lessons. I'm still working through a lot of things, and for me right now it's focusing on footy and hopefully I can take my opportunity that might hopefully come this weekend."

Assistant coach Ian Foster said it was good to have Kaino back firmly in the mix.

"He's come back when there was mutual agreement that the time was right. We've made it tough for him, and it hasn't been easy to get back in. But his attitude has been outstanding and he's done a heck of a job off the park in terms of helping the team prepare.

"He's got a bounce in his step and I think he pretty keen to play soon."

Kaino conceded the Baabaas provided a nice symmetry after scoring a try against them on debut for the All Blacks back on that 2004 end-of-year tour.

"The possibility of being involved this weekend is extra special. It's where it all started. A lot of things happened so quickly, and to be rushed into the tour was so crazy, then just learning so much and getting the opportunity to put on the black jersey was special."

You get the feeling that right now he will cherish one more chance every bit as much.



Photo caption: Veteran All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino believes he still has something to offer the team.