We're sorry, NZRU chairman tells fans

By Mike Houlahan

Report into debacle finds that All Blacks' leadership failed at crucial moments

The Rugby World Cup mauling continued for the All Blacks and team management yesterday, as a Rugby Union-commissioned report slated the controversial reconditioning programme and said team leadership failed in the doomed campaign's most important moment.

The report, by Auckland lawyer Mike Heron and former national softball coach Don Tricker, was commissioned in the wake of the All Blacks' humiliatingly early exit.

It painted a picture of a team burdened by expectations, and ankle-tapped before it even got to the tournament because of a poorly thought-out conditioning programme. Once there, injuries and referees' decisions played a part in the 20-18 loss to France, but the team's leaders failed to make right decisions at critical moments.

NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs said the union and the All Blacks had clearly made mistakes, and they acknowledged them.

"We have previously apologised for letting down our supporters, and I repeat that we are very sorry we failed at Cardiff in the Rugby World Cup, and for the disappointment and frustration this has caused our supporters and our fans."

The report said time off for New Zealand's leading rugby players was vital, and other leading nations had off-seasons built into their schedules.

Conditioning had succeeded to some degree, with many of the players fitter and faster than ever before, but several struggled to reintegrate into their Super 14 teams and lacked vital match practice in the cup run-up.

Mr Hobbs said the competition structure was unsustainable and needed to be urgently revamped, but international commitments such as tests and Super 14 meant there was little room for a rest period to be built into the programmes for top players.

A conditioning period was needed, but the way it had been carried out before the World Cup was a mistake, Hobbs said.

"The board at that time, when asked to make a decision inrespect to it, made a brave decision and one which at that timeseemed right. But in hindsight it was clearly wrong, and we accept that."

Hobbs said the board remained confident in All Black coach Graham Henry, despite the report's findings.

Henry said he had underestimated the impact the reconditioning programme would have on the players and on the game of rugby in general.

"We've just got to find some way of making sure that doesn't happen in the future, and how we structure our competitions will help in that regard."

Henry said in his view elite players should play in only two competitions.

The report revealed Henry had sent a message down to the field 10 minutes before the end of the quarter-final which told captain Richie McCaw to tell the team to try to score a drop goal.

Despite McCaw's decision to ignore trying to score three crucial points, Henry defended the Canterbury flanker. "Richie made a decision I totally agree with. His decision was to go for it."

REPORT FINDINGS

* Too great an emphasis placed on winning the World Cup.
* Cup preparation was thorough and professional.
* Player leadership model should continue, but it failed during quarter-final.
* Conditioning a good idea but its execution was flawed.
* All Black management team at the cup was too big.

- NZ Herald

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