His All Black career may have been cut short, but Kane Hames’ involvement in rugby is far from over. He speaks to Jonty Dine about his journey from player to coach, referee and now, commentator.
Calling the shots
The last place Kane Hames thought he would be after hanging up his boots was the commentary box.
In 2016, the former Nelson College prop, was at the top of his game – playing for the All Blacks just one year after he started a season with no professional playing contract.
Kane had played ten test matches and was proving himself at international level before a cruel twist of fate saw him suffer a concession during a test match against Australia. It put him out of action on the field. But soon he found his way into the commentary box.
Kane is now regularly sighted on TV with a microphone in hand.
“The commentary thing just happened. It was something I never planned on or ever thought about.”
Kane’s first stint on the microphone came during radio coverage of the All Blacks vs Argentina test in Nelson with Nigel Yalden
“I was nervous, but it was easy, Nigel did all the talking, he knew I had no idea what to say.”
From there it was Sky TV’s Tony Johnson who convinced Kane to give TV a crack.
“He and I had talked a lot during my career, he spotted me and asked if I wanted to do some TV stuff.”
The 32-year-old says he feels sorry for anyone who was subjected to his commentary debut.
“It was a game between the Māori All Blacks and Chile, I don’t think I had anything interesting to say and just bumbled my way through it.”
He says fans want to be informed and entertained.
“I did neither of those things, I came away ruminating for two weeks thinking ‘why did I say yes to that?’”
However, Kane’s confidence grew and as with everything else he has done in rugby, he quicky ascended the ranks and was commentating the Mitre 10 Cup final in 2019.
“More opportunities came up and TJ talked me into it.”
A year on, Kane was again tasked with calling the premiership final at the weekend.
“Now I am trying to put some opinion in as opposed to just talking over what’s happening.”
He says as a player, feedback was crucial, something not as prevalent in the broadcasting game.
“If nobody is talking about you on social media then you’ve probably done ok. I sometimes have a bit of a peak when I think I’ve buggered it up.”
Kane also incorporates personal values into his commentary.
He believes pronouncing a player’s name correctly is very important.
“Think of the hours it takes to play rugby professionally, to do all that work and to have your name butchered on TV, I take that pretty seriously.”
Another unwritten rule he abides by is to not glorify players being dominated.
“I think you have to be so brave to play rugby the last thing you need is a commentator talking rubbish about you.”
Kane says he wants to expand viewers thinking around the game.
“I want to commentate in a way that make people love and understand rugby a little bit more.”
The man in the middle
A student of the game, Kane has made a rapid ascent in the refereeing ranks to mirror his playing career.
He had always planned to move into refereeing after playing but made the transition earlier than expected.
“I was playing to learn as much as I could, I was always quite motivated to be a referee.”
Kane made his first-class debut in the Farah Palmer Cup match between Tasman and Hawke’s Bay in Motueka as an assistant referee.
As a former front rower, there is nothing that irks Kane quite like multiple scrum resets.
As a referee, he has done his best to ensure scrums stay up as much as possible.
“If a game is positive don’t want to turn it negative with scrum penalties and resets.”
Kane says he wants to influence the game in a positive way.
“I just want people to play rugby, the game is still amazing, we just don’t see enough of it.”He says he tries to nullify the negative tactics players are taught to slow things down.
“The game has not lost its flair, just too much ball in play.”
He says watching rugby archives from the early 2000s, players take about 15 seconds to set a scrum as opposed to today where up to five minutes can be wasted on resets.
“There was a lot more rugby played back in the day, these are the little things I want to influence.”
His goal is to one day take charge of an international game, something no former All Black has ever achieved.
Molding future stars
While promising on both the mic and whistle, Kane says his future in rugby lies with coaching.
Kane has been coaching since he was 16 and recently took on a role with the Nelson College First XV.
His input has been immeasurable as Nelson has since claimed its second UC Championship and took out the prestigious Quadrangular Tournament in 2020.
“I am lucky to have coached a lot of teams already, everything I am doing is to become a better coach.”
His experience is almost unmatched, having formerly been the Rugby Development Officer at Bay of Plenty where he held almost every role imaginable – from setting up the fields to running out as the mascot.
Kane says he avoids scrum coaching to challenge himself in other areas.
“I try to stay away from being the scrum guy.”
Despite his All Black career, he doesn’t consider himself a mentor to his players.
“I just do what I can to enhance their rugby.”
Kane has seen plenty of talent come through the school during his four years with the 1st XV.
“Luca Inch will go pretty well, Dylan Irvine has the attitude to do it and Will Thornally who has always been the easiest kid to coach.”
He also cites Anton Segner, who made his Mako debut this year, as one for the future.
“Anton was always going to make it.”
Kane’s has an insatiable appetite to improve his rugby knowledge and in turn, his coaching ability.
“I want to travel the country and world and learn how everyone else does it.”
Staying in the game
Kane still suffers the effects of concussion with memory issues, fatigue, headaches and mood swings.
“I’m still trying to figure out ways around it.”
However, other than perhaps a stint late in life with golden oldies, he accepts his playing days are over.
“I’m finished, definitely finished. I’m keen to move on. I made the decision about a month ago, but I should have made it a long time ago.”
In a life dominated by rugby, there was only one option for Kane post playing days.
“I have spent my days around rugby, and I am not leaving anytime soon.”
Though he still sometimes gets the itch to play, he has reset his sights on other aspects of the game.
“Whether you were a test or club players everyone wishes they could still play but I have fallen in love with commentating, coaching and refereeing. If you’re good enough, opportunities will open up.”