All Blacks great Kieran Read is thrilled by the prospect of giving back to the local community after sealing a temporary return to boyhood team Counties Manukau for the upcoming Mitre 10 Cup season.
It was confirmed on Monday that Read, 34, had been given permission by his Toyota Verblitz employers to make a short-term move back to New Zealand for the provincial competition, with Japan's Top League not due to resume until January after the 2019-20 season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Having not played rugby for six months already, Read was keen to get his body back in the swing of regular action, while a return to Counties – whom he turned out for, and watched regularly, as a child – gives him the chance to go back to where it all began.
The former All Blacks captain still has designs on heading back to Japan, but he acknowledged he is at a point in his career where it is necessary to consider his roots.
"I did not think I would get this opportunity," Read said. "With what has happened around the world, I am back in New Zealand at the moment and to be honest, very fortunate to have this opportunity.
"My club in Japan, Toyota, realised I don't really need to be on the sidelines for too much longer.
"It has been a long year, I have only played a couple of games and they have given me the opportunity to get back on the field here with Counties and I am really excited by that, because it ticks a few boxes for the body, but also for me to give back, because I guess that is where I am in my career.
"It is a place that is dear to my heart, it is where I grew up and to try to give back and much as I can to the region, is what I am looking forward to doing.
"I am very thankful to Steve [Hansen, Toyota's director of rugby] and Simon Cron, our coach.
"Those guys understand that for me as an older athlete, it is a long time out of the game and we were not going to be playing in Japan until January."