New Zealand coach Steve Hansen would not be drawn on Jerome Kaino’s availability for next week’s game against Australia after the flanker returned home on Saturday to deal with a personal matter.
Kaino missed the All Blacks’ 54-34 Rugby Championship-opening rout of the Wallabies in Sydney after a story about an alleged extra-marital affair emerged in the Australian press hours before kick-off.
Asked whether Kaino, who was not selected in the matchday 23 this weekend, would be in contention for next week’s Bledisloe Cup encounter in Dunedin, Hansen replied: “I think that’s a pretty loaded question.
“We all know what the problem is and he’s got some stuff he’s got to deal with. Once he’s dealt with that, we’ll make some decisions.”
New Zealand Rugby confirmed on Saturday that the 34-year-old had returned home to deal with a “personal matter”.
NZR said in a statement: “Information published concerning Aaron Smith in New Zealand media today is also a new development. NZR cannot comment at this stage on what are both personal matters, but we feel for all of those affected.”
Asked at his post-match press conference about where Kaino’s “head space was at” after allegations of an extra-marital affair emerged hours before kick-off, Hansen was understandably protective of his player.
“You put yourself in his shoes and tell me what your head space would be like,” he said, quoted by rugby.com.au.
“There’s been enough written about that already. It’s a personal thing that he and his family have to deal with.
“As I said, there’s no point us sitting here trying to talk about how he feels and if you’re struggling with that, put yourself in his shoes and imagine what would be said and how you’d feel.”
New Zealand management then wrapped up the press conference, with Hansen shaking his head and, as he got out of his seat to leave, adding: “Sport’s not about that.”
The off-field controversy did not appear too big a hindrance to the All Blacks, who were 40-6 up at half-time at the ANZ Stadium and extended their advantage to 54-6 after the break.
The Wallabies mounted a comeback and mustered 28 points to make the scoreline more respectable, but still fell to a comprehensive loss.
Coach Michael Cheika, however, retains faith in his players and believes next week could be a different story.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of changes,” he said.
“They’ll do it. There’s no one-two-three step process for that type of stuff. It comes down to a deep belief between players.
“We’ve got to acknowledge what we did wrong first of all and then say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to fix that thing or those two things or whatever they might be’, and then go to it and do it.
“This group of players here, they’ve got a very strong connection.
“I’ve seen it over this first month that they’ve been together and this is a roadblock in front of us, of course, and it’s going to knock us down but it’s not going to stop us.”