Regional | Coach

Concussion symptoms still plague former All Black Kane Hames

Source / File

By Aaron Goile, Stuff

“G’day cobber”, comes the voice down the phone from Brisbane Airport.

But Kane Hames (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou) would be fooling no-one with his attempt at an Australian twang.

“I tried my best,” concedes the former All Blacks prop and Reds scrum coach, soon before boarding a flight back across the ditch for Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinal against his former Chiefs team in Hamilton.

And it’s not like Hames’ Aussie accent is about to get much better, considering he’ll be back in Nelson this winter, his contract with the Queensland side expiring a fortnight after their final match of the season, and with a new head coach incoming, no guarantee of employment for next season.

It was his connection with head coach Brad Thorn – Highlanders team-mates in 2014 – which landed him the Reds gig for this year, where he is also in charge of their maul and cleanout.

Thorn came calling last August when previous set piece coach Cameron Lillicrap was finishing up, inviting Hames to make the step up from the resource coaching he had been doing for the club in years gone by.

It’s a step into the world of Super coaching which Hames, 34, had hoped might have come sooner, only to reveal to Stuff that concussion symptoms continue to stall that journey, nearly six years on from the night he was knocked out in, ironically, Brisbane.

That 23-18 All Blacks loss to the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium in October 2017 was not Hames’ final match of footy. He suited up a fortnight later against the Barbarians, then also went on to play the following three weeks on the northern tour.

But come 2018, the effects of his knockout – friendly fire with Sam Cane as the duo attempted a tackle on Israel Folau – came to the fore, unable to make it back on the park for the Chiefs, or Tasman. And, after not being re-signed by the Chiefs for 2020, he had all but given up on lacing the boots up again.

Refereeing and TV commentary were a new focus, and though he had coached fulltime for six years as a rugby development officer, and when injured taken charge of Nelson’s Marist premier club side, and also Tasman Development, it wasn’t so straightforward for him to jump back into coaching, either.

“I would rather have moved into coaching straight away, but it’s actually taken four years of intense recovery to even get to the point now where I can coach scrum stuff a couple of sessions a week,” Hames admitted.

“I still get some concussion symptoms... the usual, you Google them, all of them... so I can’t do a whole lot of stuff.”

Is that a scary thought, considering it’s almost half a dozen years on from that fateful night at Suncorp Stadium?

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “It should be scary for everyone, I reckon”.

In the meantime, Hames, who describes himself as “just a curious creature who just wants to learn as much as I can just about anything I can”, is soaking up this new experience in a foreign environment.

“It was something I wasn’t so sure about, leaving Nelson and the commentary stuff, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” he said.

The verdict now, after a regular season where the Reds have placed eighth with a 5-9 record?

“Really enjoyable”, but also “tough”, particularly when considering a whole starting front row from last year in Taniela Tupou, Josh Nasser and Harry Hoopert have been lost to injury and has required a complete rebuild.

“We’ve had a couple of games where a lot of us didn’t think we should have lost... if you look at our points differential we’ve had one of those really weird years where we’ve only just lost quite a few games, and then you have the other games where you’re surprised we did so badly, like the one on the weekend against the Drua.”

The Reds, though of course with the distinction of being the only team to knock over the table-toppers during the regular season, will go into the quarterfinal as huge underdogs, against a Chiefs side Hames represented 25 times through 2016-17 and has a few unique insights into.

“They’re outstanding,” he noted. “They lead the stats in pretty much every positive stat you want to lead.

“I remember when I was playing, there were times I thought we could have kicked a little bit better, but now they’re the highest-kicking team in the comp, they’re very smart in the way that they play, defensively I think they are the best.

“So we were very happy and fortunate to get the win in New Plymouth, but now with a couple of the Chiefs lads back, and now that they’re back in Hamilton, perhaps this one might be a little bit harder.

“We’ve got a plan, and we hope that it works. We also know that the Chiefs are a quality side, and that eighth versus first, we already know what the expected result is. We’re trying to find a way to go against expectations.”

Whenever it is that the Reds’ campaign does finish this month, Hames will then look to get back behind the microphone for Sky, while also hoping to hang around Dan Perrin and the Tasman team in the NPC, as he looks for what might be next in this coaching odyssey.

“I just have aspirations to learn as much as I can, and then see what it turns into.”