All Blacks captain Kieran Read has spoken out about the challenges he faced having struggled to return to his best after surgery on his back.
The 33-year-old underwent back surgery late last year, and was out of action until late June for the Crusaders, and did not play a test for the All Blacks until the Rugby Championship in August.
The number eight was far from his best when he returned which led to plenty of criticism, with coach Steve Hansen forced to defend his captain on numerous occasions saying any negative comments were unwarranted and ridiculous.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Read admitted it had been a tough year for him, and he reminded his critics that he was only getting back to full fitness during the All Blacks' northern tour in November.
"Getting over back surgery was probably the biggest thing for myself," he said. "It took a lot of time and effort.
"It's been 12 months since the surgery, and it probably wasn't until the end of the year where I started feeling somewhat decent physically.
"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.
"So it bodes well to head into this off-season and pre-season feeling in really good shape."
Read will depart New Zealand at the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup to continue his playing career overseas.
He will play in either Japan or Europe. French club Racing 92 have reportedly offered him a deal worth NZ$2m a season.
Read said going offshore would provide the perfect chance to give his young family a new experience.
"As a family, it will be a good opportunity," he added.
"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."