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Former All Blacks skipper Kieran Read joins Counties Manukau

Kieran Read had been playing in Japan before the coronavirus pandemic opened up an unlikely opportunity with Counties Kaz Photography/Getty Images

Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read is to make a surprise return to New Zealand rugby for Counties Manukau in the country's Mitre 10 Cup provincial championship that starts next month.

Read, 34, left New Zealand after last year's Rugby World Cup and played under his former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen at Toyota in Japan's Top League.

He returned home when the 2019/20 Japanese league season was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and has been given dispensation by Toyota to play for Counties in the local competition, which starts on Sept. 11.

"Obviously it has been a while since I've had a run so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in again," said Read, who was brought up in the Counties region, south of Auckland.

"If I can help in any way with these up-and-coming young rugby players that would be fantastic too."

Read, who shifted to Christchurch for university and linked with Canterbury and the Crusaders in Super Rugby, played 127 Tests for the All Blacks and won two Rugby World Cup titles.

"Never in a million years would we have thought at the start of the year when we were beginning to put together our squad that a player of Kieran's calibre would be available," Counties Manukau Chief Executive Aaron Lawton said.

"We are beyond excited about having him on deck this year and are hoping our rugby community really get behind him."