Lions Tour: All Blacks captain Kieran Read labels first Test as most important of his career
All Blacks skipper Kieran Read has labelled Saturday's first British and Irish Lions Test as the most important of his career to date.
The 97-cap Read will play his first match in almost two months at Eden Park, having recovered from a broken thumb sustained on Crusaders duty.
He's played in plenty of big games across a long career - including two World Cup finals, countless Bledisloe Cup Tests and three Super Rugby deciders - but felt Saturday's match topped the list, given his captaincy and injury return.
"To be honest, it's probably the most important right now for me, massive - the series has been billed as being pretty big and I think we've finally gotten to that point where both teams are raring to go," the 31-year-old said.
"The whole history of the Lions isn't lost on us.
"I can't wait to get out there - I've been around the bush a wee bit and a few games have been right up there, so I certainly know what's coming."
Read will form one third of the Kiwi loose forward unit alongside Jerome Kaino and Sam Cane, and said his thumb had responded well to training this week - having been involved in full contact drills for about 10 days.
He will wear a brace on Saturday, but was certain he could handle 80 minutes of Test footy and perform his usual leadership duties to boot.
In what he anticipated would be a tight tussle, Read said the forward pack and set-piece would make the difference between victory and defeat.
Keeping the ruck ball ticking over quickly would also be key.
"It's a little bit of an unknown but I'm feeling great, fresh, the body's in good nick. The emotions and adrenaline will certainly kick in tomorrow," Read said.
"The biggest challenge for me is to not go quiet when you're a little bit tired, (because) as a leader you've got to be front and centre.
"We'll go out there and expect to win, probably as everyone in New Zealand will expect (that), though we've got to make sure to go out there and do that - it doesn't just happen, it comes through our week, our preparation."