HAMILTON - Keiran Read's influence on the All Blacks was measured more by what happened in the 40 minutes he was off the park against England than what he achieved on it.
World player of 2013 Read made a sound return to Test rugby in the 36-13 dismantling of the hapless tourists in Hamilton on Saturday, having played just once in the past two months.
Coach Steve Hansen said substituting the No.8 at halftime was nothing to do with the concussion symptoms which dogged him since suffering a head knock in mid-April.
Instead it was a pre-ordained move as Read was short on match fitness.
However, Hansen said the classy forward had enough time to show his importance to the All Blacks.
They won the first half 29-6 and drew the second half 7-7.
While that turnaround can't be attributed entirely to Read, Hansen admitted he was clearly missed from a leadership perspective after halftime.
"Just his mere presence gives everybody else a lot of confidence, including the skipper (Richie McCaw)," Hansen said.
"Last year he was named the best player in the world for a reason. For a guy who hasn't been here for a while, I thought he played well."
The most obvious hole left by Read was his lineout leaping — he claimed six two-handed takes — and calling.
"Reado's presence in our lineout is massive," Hansen said.
McCaw couldn't pinpoint other reasons for the All Blacks' drop off after such a dominant first half.
Going for periods without the ball made them more hesitant, something he says they can't afford in their next Test, against the in-form Wallabies in Sydney in eight weeks' time.
"We've still got a fair bit of room that we need to improve if we're going to play the game for the 80 minutes we're after," McCaw said.
"The key now for the break is to make sure we don't go backwards too far."
While Read looks set to return to Super Rugby this week, it's unclear if he will be joined at the Crusaders by fullback Israel Dagg, who missed the past two Tests with injury.
Dagg is expected to be fit for the Rugby Championship, along with Blues fullback Charles Piutau, who also has a damaged knee.
It will leave Hansen with a logjam of contenders out wide while veteran backs Conrad Smith (broken thumb) and Daniel Carter (sabbatical) will also be back in the frame.