Ready to reel in the biggest fish of all

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 October, 2010, 12:00am

Graham Henry alludes to dreams of fishing and maybe the one that got away.

Freud might have a field day with those dreams for, perhaps subconsciously, it might just be that the All Blacks coach is pining for the World Cup which slipped his grasp last time, and which has eluded rugby-mad New Zealand's embrace since the inaugural tournament in 1987.

So when Henry was asked 'what is your biggest worry in the lead-up to next year's World Cup?' and he replied: 'not having enough time on the water for some fishing', a pseudo-psychoanalyst could have really gone to town interpreting that remark.

Of course, it was said in jest. But there is no question that one of Henry's nightmare scenarios is losing icons like skipper Richie McCaw or Dan Carter to injury in the run-up to the World Cup final at Eden Park on October 23, a year from now.

Henry is a pragmatist to the core, and you could almost see his brow furrow like a comb over the telephone line from Auckland.

'You can't control the uncontrollables,' says Henry. 'We don't know what will happen in the future and you have just got to do your best now. We lost a very important player last week in Piri Weepu [broken leg]. You can't control these things.' Injury to a key player is the worst-case scenario for a coach. Like when Carter was injured and had to go off in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final against France which ended with the All Blacks bowing out.

But, as Henry says, life has to go on. What he has tried to do is have back-up players of quality, like Stephen Donald for the pivot position and Daniel Braid to fill the giant shoes of McCaw - two players who the Hong Kong fans might see in action on Saturday.

'They have played a bit of international rugby and are playing exceptionally well now and that's why they have been selected for this tour,' Henry said. 'They are quality players, but still need to prove themselves at international level.'

The need to protect players from injury before the last World Cup saw the All Blacks management (led by Henry) take the misguided step of shielding their stars from the rigours of Super 14 competition, by barring them from the first half of that season's Super matches. The decision backfired as they seemed underdone during the crunch game against the French. Henry has learned his lesson well. Even at the risk of injuries, no one will be molly-coddled during next year's Super 15.

'We won't be doing the same this time. But we need to be mindful that player management is important,' Henry said.

'We have discussed this with Super 15 New Zealand coaches and we are very much on the same page. There is a very good association between these people and I hope the players who are potential World Cup players will be managed very well.'

The All Blacks will have nine tests to fine-tune their preparations before the World Cup. The first is against the Wallabies on Saturday at the Hong Kong Stadium, followed by the four tests on their grand slam tour of the British Isles, and next year's Tri Nations series when they play Australia and South Africa, home and away. With a winning streak of 15 and counting, Henry wants his men to stay razor sharp, even if the Bledisloe Cup has already been decided.

'There's never any dead rubbers between the All Blacks and the Wallabies, they're always big games,' Henry said. 'We have had a good winning run but they have a huge desire to knock us off and you can see that in their eyes. It's going to be a hell of a big test match.

'Our 10-game win streak goes back to 2008 so it is a long time. But what you can say is that at some stage, they are going to win. We just hope it is not any time soon,' Henry said.

He dismissed any notion the All Blacks held a psychological advantage over their Trans-Tasman rivals.

'What has happened in the past is history and has no bearing on what happens in Hong Kong. We just need to get up there and do the business and they will be trying to do the same.'

Losing in the quarter-finals to France is the only major disappointment in the 64-year-old Henry's career. He has been at the helm of an All Black team who have won their past 15 tests, finished the Tri Nations unbeaten and on the verge of a third grand slam conquest of the Wallabies.

Before he became All Black coach in 2004, Henry was the 'Great Redeemer', lifting Wales from the coal-mine depths with an 11-game winning spree. In 2001, he became the first foreigner to coach the British and Irish Lions on their tour of Australia in 2001 (they lost 2-1). He was on the other side of the fence in 2005 when the Lions lost again, this time a clean sweep by the All Blacks.

His proud slate can only be completed by a World Cup victory next year.

Any talk of the World Cup has to bring up the topic of whether the All Blacks have peaked too early once again.

'I've heard that for the last 10 years probably. Same old, same old really,' shrugs Henry again. 'We just try to do our best in every test match. We are trying to build this team so it is better than it was in the Tri Nations.

'That's all we can do. The New Zealand public and the media expects us to win. The New Zealand Rugby Union expects up to win and we try to fulfill those objectives.'

He wants that big catch desperately.


The Cup was presented by the then Governor-General of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe, in 1931 and first played in: 1932

Below strength

Australia won the Cup in 1949 but this many of the All Blacks' best players were away touring South Africa: 30


The All Blacks held the Cup for a record 28 years from 1951 to 1978 in days when it was played on an irregular basis. The spell included this many Cup titles: 12

Lesson learned

Before a 1996 Cup match in Wellington the Wallabies snubbed the haka and the All Blacks made them pay, 43-6, for the biggest margin of victory in a Cup match, at this many points: 37

Packed house

A 2000 Cup clash in Sydney, won 39-35 by the All Blacks, drew the world-record crowd for a rugby match with this many thousand spectators: 109