Graham Henry sees more pain for Wallabies
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE AND RICHARD KNOWLER
Graham Henry expects the All Blacks to “significantly widen” the gap on the Wallabies in Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup test in Auckland.
With the match venue of Eden Park a fitting backdrop as Henry was confirmed on the Blues coaching panel for 2013 as technical director to John Kirwan, the World Cup-winning All Blacks coach didn't hesitate to tip more success at the ground this weekend.
“I was at the game in Sydney," Henry said. "It wasn't a great game was it? The All Blacks were significantly better than the others [Australia].”
“I think the gap will widen here and it could be quite significant, I think.”
Henry has been impressed with the transition in the All Blacks since stepping down last year after eight seasons in charge, crowned by World Cup glory.
The value of having his assistant Steve Hansen move up to the top job and the retention of so many of the coaching and management team had contributed to that being a smooth process.
“Whether it was done deliberately or we tripped over it, I'm not sure. But the continuity of people over the last eight to 10 years is hugely important,” Henry said.
“There are 11 of the management team from the World Cup last year who are still involved with the All Blacks. That's the recipe for constant improvement. With that continuity of people you know what has gone on in the past and you know what needs to be done to improve.”
Previous scenarios where coaches had come and gone every two or four years constantly left new All Blacks coaches “18 months just to get their feet under the table”.
“I think this is superb and I can see the All Blacks going from strength to strength,” Henry said.
While a lot of playing personnel had also been sensibly retained, the All Blacks selectors were also being rewarded for some bold selections.
Henry noted the comfort with which new, young players such as halfback Aaron Smith and locks Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano had been introduced.
“It's exciting. There are a lot of young rugby players in this country who are talented and knocking on the door.
"We have the best breeding ground of young rugby players in the world.”
Hansen has made just one enforced change to the All Blacks, with Wyatt Crockett starting at loosehead prop for the injured Tony Woodcock.
Crockett, 29, has been around but despite making his test debut against the Italy in Christchurch in June 2009 he has amassed a mere six caps compared to Woodcock's 87. At 31, Woodcock, while still an integral part of the All Blacks, he is coming to the end of his career.
If Crockett can impress Hansen against the Aussies, it would go some to to showing he can be trusted to start more often and in doing so will also add some longevity to Woodcock's career.
Crockett's All Blacks' career has been repeatedly punctuated by frustration.
Although selected for the Irish series in June he never took the field because Woodcock started all three tests.
And the closest Crockett came to playing in last year's World Cup was when he joined the All Blacks at training in Christchurch; there was always going to be room for just one specialist loosehead in that squad and Woodcock was never going to relinquish it.
Crockett's last test was the 30-14 win over Australia last August.
ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
- Fairfax Media
With Nonu out, who would you like to see paired with Conrad Smith in the All Blacks midfield?