Puma power makes Henry's help awkward

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 09/09/2012

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OPINION: As mothers have always said, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

At the start of the year the idea of Graham Henry giving a bit of a hand to the Pumas coaches sounded like a good-spirited, generous, and, whisper it, ever so slightly patronising, gesture.

Getting the Latin chaps up to speed? Who better than the world cup-winning coach? This week in Wellington - as it became clear Henry was a full-fledged member of the Pumas coaching group - the mood shifted a little with the awkward question: Had Henry moved camps too quickly?

It was the sporting version of the old dilemma - how soon is too soon for a widow to remarry? Is a year a disgrace but 18 months respectful?

After the patriotic fervour of last year, should the man rightly feted throughout the country in 2011 be wearing the blue top of Argentina 10 months later?

Like many, I was in the “who cares” camp, as most of the public and media commentators appear to be. There are a few exceptions, although some anti-Henry critics are so bloody minded that if the coach discovered a cure for cancer and gave it to the world for free, they'd say he was on an ego trip.

After last night you now wonder if the signs of mild irritation in the All Black ranks (“amused” and “disappointed” were two words Steve Hansen used to describe his team's feelings at seeing Henry in Pumas' gear during the week) might escalate at speed, especially if the Pumas progress even more and bowl New Zealand in La Plata at the end of the month.

The Pumas were rank outsiders in Wellington, but, as South Africa found in Mendoza, there's hard, painful work to be done before bettering Argentina in close contact.

Their forwards are big, mean, and worldly. The word “macho” doesn't derive from Latin by accident.

Their preferred style would be to cut out the fancy nonsense like backs running the ball, and just move from scrum to maul and back to maul.

If they ever introduced the three-second “clear it” rule now running in the ITM Cup, there would be massive queues of gnarled, bewildered behemoths outside every psychologist's office in Buenos Aires, begging to be told why someone took their game away.

Not much danger of that happening last night. The weather, windy, sometimes with swirling rain added, was only lacking sub-zero temperatures to be the perfect dampener on wide-ranging, attacking rugby.

The All Blacks initially tried to ignore the conditions, and, in the sort of move most Kiwis laughed at when the Wallabies tried it in Sydney, paid the price early for being naive, a lost ball by Ma'a Nonu in his own 22 gifting a try to prop Rodrigo Roncero.

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After that embarrassment it was a sharp return until midway through the second half to footy that anyone who's seen back and white newsreels of the 1950s All Blacks would recognise.

Kick, chase, and look for mistakes. The problem for the All Blacks was that Aaron Cruden, as brilliant a player as he is in most respects, is not as precise at tactical kicking as Dan Carter.

Carter says himself that it took, ah, cough, Graham Henry, a while to persuade him that he could be more daring at first-five for the All Blacks, and give the kicking a rest. But he's never lost the ability to play the Jonny Wilkinson card, and be dourly effective.

So the All Blacks played without huge command until the last 15 minutes, when passes stuck and Julian Savea showed why he's such an exciting prospect on the wing, and Cory Jane showed how he has realised his potential.

The All Blacks fully deserved the win. But if this Pumas team are out of their depth at this level, then Prince Harry has never partied naked.

- Sunday Star Times

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