WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Injured All Blacks captain Kieran Read was making himself a 'pain in the butt' at his team's training sessions and was close to a return to the playing field after back surgery last year, coach Steve Hansen said on Thursday.
Read has not played since the surgery to correct a bulging disc that was causing leg pain and Hansen had said earlier there was no rush in bringing him back until he was fully fit.
The number eight, however, has been in camp with the All Blacks for their three-match series against France and Hansen said his role at training had been to replicate the French loose forwards' play and put pressure on the world champions.
"Reado is making some good progress so you should see him on the park in a couple of weeks," Hansen told reporters in Dunedin on Thursday. "He's been a pain in the butt at training. The boys are getting sick of him.
"He's been good. He's been in the opposition -- he's been as niggly as hell, so he'll be ready to go shortly."
Hansen added the 32-year-old Read was likely to play for his provincial side Counties-Manukau before making a comeback with the Canterbury Crusaders towards the tail end of Super Rugby.
The Crusaders top the Super Rugby table and are looking strong favourites to defend their title, with Read's potential return ahead of the playoffs a massive boost to their chances.
The All Blacks' final test against France is at Otago Regional Stadium on Saturday, with the series already wrapped up after the world champions won the first two tests.
Luke Whitelock has played number eight for the national side in Read's absence.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien)