Ask any New Zealand boy what they want to be when they grow up and chances are they’ll say, ‘An All Black’.
It’s a noble dream shared by many youngsters throughout our nation including, circa 2000, Kieran Read, the man now at the helm of our men in black.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read needs little introduction, but for the sake of it here’s one anyway.
Kieran is about as Kiwi as they come. Raised on the rural fringes of South Auckland, he’s described by those close to him as unassuming and down to earth, a real team player who is always looking to better himself, a sharp man whose actions speak louder than his words.
This is the fabric of a great Kiwi athlete and it’s certainly synonymous with the figure the nation has come to know and love. But there was once a time where we mightn’t have known Kieran in this light, or perhaps not even at all…
Small-town upbringing, global aspirations
Kieran happens to be one of those people that is naturally good at everything – as academically endowed as he is physically talented.
He was offered a sports scholarship to one of the country’s most prestigious secondary schools, St Kentigerns College, and he duly accepted. But after a one-year interlude he returned to Rosehill College where, in his final year, he was made head boy and received the Sportsman of the Year and Sports All-Rounder of the Year awards.
He has the brains in his head and feet in his shoes to steer himself any direction he chooses, and at one point it was looking like a life spent at the crease (he represented Northern Districts in age-group cricket and was selected for the New Zealand Under-17 tournament side in 2002).
He was certainly kept busy between cricket and rugby, where he also played for New Zealand Schools, New Zealand Under-19, New Zealand Under-21 and the Junior All Blacks.
But Kieran always felt a magnetism towards rugby and so, after an inspired pitch from Aussie McLean and Robbie Deans, he made the move to Canterbury and began his professional career in the Canterbury Development Squad.
He simultaneously continued his academic studies, this time at the University of Canterbury with whom he shared his leadership philosophies, naturally, as he was studying for a degree in sports coaching.
“When leading, you need to be yourself and have very clear values that mirror and portray the way you lead,” Kieran told UC at the time.
“Outstanding coaches are also outstanding leaders, responsible for developing, nurturing and challenging people to consistently produce outstanding performance and with it – the right results.
“Winning in sport is how the public and fans judge a team and that success usually stems from the coach, just as business leadership in a company starts at the top.”
Though he began his senior representative year at blindside flanker, Kieran proved his versatility and has come to be known as a ‘master of the role of the modern number 8’.
In 2006 he played his first National Provincial Championship game for Canterbury; in 2008 he donned the All Blacks’ jersey for the first time; in 2010 he was named New Zealand Player of the Year by the 2010 Rugby Almanack of New Zealand; in 2011 he played in his first Rugby World Cup; and in 2013 he was the IRB’s (now World Rugby) National and International Player of the Year.
Appointed the All Blacks captaincy in 2016, Kieran is also partially responsible for leading the All Blacks to their world record 18-consecutive test wins and 45-consecutive home wins, and he’s not even one full year into his captaincy.
The role of a lifetime
Former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw left some big boots to fill – which other captain of a New Zealand sporting team can say a movie has been made and named after them – but Kieran has assumed the role, alongside the nation’s heart, with poise and ease.
“I believe in leading people by making sure that I have a connection with everyone I am involved with and giving them the trust and belief to do their job well,” Kieran told UC.
“As players we have to perform and deliver everything we learned and trained for in order to get the results we want. I thrive on the role of playing my part to support, challenge and guide my teammates so we get over the line each time.
“While I have been lucky enough to win a few games over the years, I’ve also learned how to cope and grow from defeat. The burning feeling you suffer from a loss takes a long time to get over and the more you feel that pain, you can switch that energy into deeper determination to bounce back and reverse the result for the next game.”
Life off the field
Now 31 and with a young family– wife Bridget, daughters Elle and Eden, and new-born son Rueben – Kieran’s priorities are shared between his on and off-field duties.
Of those off-field priorities is being the brand ambassador for plumbing merchants Plumbing World, a position Kieran has held since 2013 and is “really proud” of.
“It’s pretty awesome to have that kind of faith put in you,” Kieran said at the time.
“Plumbing World is a business that’s been around for ages – it’s a real Kiwi brand that’s owned by lots of real Kiwi plumbers. That kind of thing’s really important to me.”
The feeling is mutual. Plumbing World marketing manager Sarah Vining says Kieran’s down-to-earth attitude really struck a chord with Plumbing World executives who, at the time, were launching a new marketing direction to reflect the company’s ‘Kiwi roots’ and found Kieran to be the perfect fit.
“Kieran’s one of this generation’s best players. He’s always looking to improve, to better himself, and that really fits with the way we run our business,” Sarah says.
Perhaps due to being a father or perhaps due to the good-sort nature he possesses, Kieran’s also an advocate for men’s health and often speaks publicly on his own accord.
In a post on his Facebook page, Kieran is clearly keen to raise awareness on mental health and bust the paradigms by which it exists in our society.
“If only men weren’t so reluctant to talk to a good mate or family when they’re going through tough times. We certainly need to out on the paddock when things aren’t going so well, so the same rules should apply off the field. C’mon men let’s start talking when times get tough.” – KIERAN READ
Kieran embodies what it means to be an All Black. Dominant on the field and compassionate off it; this is what it means to be an All Black and this is why next-gen after next-gen continue to dream of pulling on that jersey.