All Blacks: Super 14 no preparation for international stage

By Dylan Cleaver

The timing could be better. In the week when the New Zealand Rugby Union are set to announce the inking of a deal that will keep Graham Henry in the coaching hot-seat through the 2011 World Cup, his side put in a similar performance to the one that so nearly cost him his job two years ago.

"It's news to me," said Henry when asked about his re-appointment. "Sounds good."

When assessing the fortunes of his forward pack, in particular the young loose trio of Liam Messam, Adam Thomson and Kieran Read, who struggled to match the French at the breakdown, Steve Hansen said it confirmed his thoughts that the Super 14 was "four or five rungs down from test rugby".

Henry gave that assessment more clarity later when he explained that the two styles did not match up, whereas the French top 14 was a lot more similar to the sort of rugby required to win test matches.

"It's a different style," he said. "It's played in summer. It's played on top of the ground and the ball is used a lot more. "

Isaac Ross can testify to that. He rated the step up to tests as "20 to 30 per cent more intense" than any match he had played before.

"Right from the first lineout, I was getting elbows and cracks to the head," he said. "It's a lot tougher. That was Northern Hemisphere rugby at its finest."

The tight five struggled to impose itself, often delivering disrupted ball and forcing the All Blacks to play too much rugby behind the advantage line.

"They were more physical than us," said Henry. "Their defence was excellent as well. The intercept try in the end killed us but we were the second best side out there. They deserved to win."

Cory Jane, playing on the wing, was one of the few bright lights in the team. He couldn't, however, hide his frustration at not seeing the ball.

"It was hard to get the ball," he said. "We turned over a lot of pill. They came out really physical and we didn't."

Andrew Hore is nursing rib cartilage damage and will almost certainly miss the second test. That will mean the squad will need cover, opening the way possibly for Aled de Malmanche.

Adam Thomson has broken a bone in his hand and may be unavailable.

- Herald on Sunday

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