NZ to replace Henry by end of year - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

NZ to replace Henry by end of year

By John Mehaffey 08/10/2007 05:57:14 AM Comments (0)

New Zealand coach Graham Henry will be replaced by the end of the year after his carefully planned mission to bring the World Cup home ended in failure.

The tournament favourites were knocked out in the quarter-final stages for the first time when they lost 20-18 to France at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

"We will have a new All Blacks coach in place by Christmas," New Zealand Rugby Football Union chairman Jock Hobbs told a news conference on Sunday.

Henry, 61, has been an overall success as All Blacks coach with 38 wins from 43 tests before the World Cup, including a 3-0 series win over the British and Irish Lions two years ago.

But he will be judged on the failed three-year campaign to win the World Cup for the first time in 20 years and the verdict is likely to be harsh after the heightened expectations surrounding the current All Blacks team.

Henry's strategy of rotating his players for test matches in an attempt to build strength in depth created disquiet in New Zealand where critics accused him of devaluing the All Blacks jersey.

The sceptics, who include several prominent former All Blacks, also believed the constant changes gave the current team no chance of building up combinations.

Others, mindful of the 1999 and 2003 semi-finals, where New Zealand were out-played and out-thought by France and then Australia, questioned the team's ability to make correct decisions under pressure.

David Kirk, captain of the 1987 side who remain the only All Blacks team to win the World Cup, said the rotation policy had not worked.

"I think playing the best team regularly is important. It is possible to have too much talent," Kirk told the Sunday Star-Times newspaper.

Henry's selection for what was in effect the All Blacks' first serious game of the tournament after they cruised through the pool stages will be questioned.

For the third tournament in a row, New Zealand played a fullback at centre in a knockout match. For the third time they lost.

Mils Muliaina, who admittedly does have considerable experience at outside centre, was selected ahead of Conrad Smith with Leon MacDonald at fullback, meaning New Zealand fielded a second-choice player in two positions.

Although New Zealand monopolised possession they failed to break the French defence and with Smith, Aaron Mauger and New Zealand record try scorer Doug Howlett not even in the 22, Henry had no experienced backs to bring on in the final stages.

As in 1999 and 2003, New Zealand also did not seem to have an alternative game plan, prompting doubts about the quality of the on-field decision making.

Outspoken rugby commentator Murray Deaker did not pull his punches. "Sadly we are a dumb rugby nation, we don't play the big matches well," he said.

Deaker's comments will resonate in New Zealand where Saturday's result will be taken more seriously than the defeat by France in 1999.

It may rank with the 4-0 series loss to South Africa in 1949 as a nadir in New Zealand rugby and many of the thousands of New Zealanders who paid a lot of money to follow their team felt badly cheated on Sunday.

They still wore their replica playing strips but they, and the rest of the rugby world, will be wondering just how much magic the All Blacks brand still holds.

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