LISTEN ABOVE AS KIERAN READ SPEAKS TO TIM DOWER
Back off. That might be the message from All Blacks captain Kieran Read to his critics.
Read has told NewstalkZB it took him all of 2018 to get back in reasonable shape after major back surgery, and he sounded confident of upping his game in 2019, when he will bow out of the All Blacks at the World Cup.
Despite a year of solid contributions, Read has copped it from a number of places including one of the judges who has just put together the BBC's World XV of the year.
Former England wing Ugo Monye said: "Kieran Read's a legend of the game, but he's nowhere near playing at a level which we've got used to - he doesn't even come into the equation for me."
Read didn't comment directly on the criticism, but he did outline what a tough year it had been.
"Getting over back surgery was probably the biggest thing for myself," he said.
"It took a lot of time and effort. It was a big year in a lot of ways but that was probably the main thing.
"It's really good. It's been 12 months since the surgery and it probably wasn't until basically the end of the year where I started feeling somewhat decent physically.
"So it bodes well to head into this off season and pre-season feeling in really good shape.
"Where I was at this point last year, the pain I was in, it [surgery] was needed. It's been a fairly fast recovery in some respects. I've worked pretty hard at it and I'm in good shape now.
"There weren't too many nerves around the back as such it was more about the whole body and getting it going."
Read confirmed 2019 would be his last as an All Black, before a "short stint" playing in Japan or Europe.
"As a family it will be a good opportunity," he said.
"My wife and kids have made a lot of sacrifices over the years I've been playing. It's probably the hardest thing. You appreciate that and know how much it takes out of them. Spending more time with them would be cool."
On the All Black losses (to South Africa and Ireland) this year, Read said: "I think we've learnt in the past that they can provide a lot of motivation for us."