Jerome Up Front

Editor’s note: Published in SPASIFIKmag issue 65 pre Rugby World Cup final.


Jerome Kaino was the All Blacks’ leading performer when they won the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup. Following the release of his autobiography he speaks to INNES LOGAN about their prospects defending the title, Samoa, Fats, school rugby and new Blues coach Tana Umaga

Jerome Kaino and SPASIFIK publisher Innes Logan hold a copy of the SPASIFIK Nov/ Dec 2011 Issue 47 when Jerome, the All Blacks leading player of the tournament, featured on the cover holding the 2011 Rugby World Cup trophy in triumph


As a Samoan, what was it like being part of the historic first test for the All Blacks against Manu Samoa in Samoa?


The couple of days in Samoa were very special. The welcome at Faleolo airport was incredible, as was the drive all the way to Apia. There were torches lit in every village. Seeing the kids on the side of the road being really excited to get a glimpse of us was a huge scene-setter for the team. And being welcomed by all the locals at the parade the next day was something else.


Do you have any family still in Samoa?


My grandma on my Mum’s side, who is my only living grandparent, lives there. I have lots of uncles and aunties there, too. We Samoans in the All Blacks were lucky as our other teammates gave us their allocations of around six tickets each, so we could give them to our friends and family.


And what about the game itself?


I knew it was going to be tough. I’d been to Apia Park a couple of times with the Junior All Blacks and had some very hard games. But it seemed even hotter this time and the ball was so slippery. I was glad to come away with the win and be part of the whole experience It was touch and go as to whether I’d recover in time from a finger injury that kept me sidelined for a few weeks.


Fats (Manu Samoa legend Peter Fatialofa who died suddenly from a heart attack in 2013) had long pushed for an All Blacks-Manu Samoa test in Apia Park. Did you think of him?


I sure did. The last few times I’d been over with my family Fats looked after us. It was quite weird being at the Tanoa Hotel and not having him poolside. I miss him.


I was reading about you leaving your local school, Papakura High, to go to St Kentigerns on a scholarship in the 1990s and the rugby opportunities it provided. Today there’s concern that players are being scouted too young. With the TV exposure secondary school rugby receives on Sky TV, the pressures on them seem much greater. Would you agree?


Definitely. When I played secondary school rugby, you didn’t have the amount of coverage you get now. I think we were shown on TV once. With that comes the added pressure to perform. One plus is that there’s less pressure to play for certain schools because of their reputation. More schools are getting TV exposure that they’ve never had before.


The All Blacks have established an incredible winning record over the past decade under both Graham Henry and Steve Hansen. How has Steve Hansen been able to keep the All Blacks’ winning percentage (in the mid-to high 80’s) so high?


He’s got his own way of relating well to the players while also keeping us on our toes. Steve’s good at changing the way we play so we don’t become too predictable. He has a strong team of coaches and thinkers. We’re also surrounded by some great, experienced players and leaders. It’s special being part of it.


The All Blacks are strong favourites to successfully defend the trophy for the first time. How hard will that be?


The fact that it has never been done before says it all. History shows we don’t have a good track record in Rugby World Cups on the other side of the world. The expectations are understandably huge because of our win-loss record and the amount of depth there is in New Zealand rugby, but we’re under no illusions as to how difficult it will be.


Editor’s note: We won!


You’re staying in New Zealand in 2016 and beyond with the Blues. And you’ll be under a new coach with Tana Umaga now at the helm. What are your expectations?


First of all, I’ll miss JK (previous coach John Kirwan). Being captain this year was new for me and JK was very supportive. As for Tana, I was privileged enough to go on tour with him to the UK and France in 2004 when he was All Blacks captain. Being the first Samoan to captain the All Blacks at test rugby, he’s a legend. As coach of Counties Manukau he knows a lot of players from our region. Tana was also successful with Toulon in France. He’ll be good for us, especially our backs, and being Polynesian, a lot of the guys will relate to him. After the frustrations of this year’s Super XV, I’m looking forward to working with him.


Frank Solomon the Samoan Maori

While Samoan players feature prominently among the All Blacks of today, Jerome Kaino is only the second player to have been born in American Samoa. Jerome knew that


Early in my journalism career with the local Western Leader newspaper in West Auckland, I interviewed Frank Solomon at his Blockhouse Bay home in 1991. Of Samoan (through his mother) and European descent, his family left American Samoa for New Zealand in 1918 for greater education opportunities for the children. By doing so they also avoided the Spanish influenza epidemic which killed up to a quarter of the entire population in both Samoa and American Samoa.


Frank also played for NZ Maori. How? He was approached by Walter Batty, one of the great Maori players of the time, to tour Britain with the NZ Maori in the late 1920s.


When Frank said he was Samoan, not Maori, Walter said “no one could tell the difference” and they’d change his surname to Frank ‘Horomona’ just to make sure. Frank, a patron and lifetime member of the Ponsonby Rugby Club, winning six Gallaher Shield titles with them, sadly passed away a few months after our interview in late in 1991. I tracked down the article from one of my scrapbooks and gave Jerome a copy.