Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Henry's World Cup scheme is full of holes

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If the All Blacks claim the prize, Graham Henry will get the praise and he'll deserve a lot of it. Photo / Getty Images
If the All Blacks claim the prize, Graham Henry will get the praise and he'll deserve a lot of it. Photo / Getty Images

Calling all the Graham Henry acolytes.

Where is the genius you assured us would be leading the troops into battle come the 2011 World Cup?

As a Henry sceptic (and a supporter of Robbie Deans' right and credentials for the job back in 2007) I'll say this: your man has not delivered the way you said he would, no matter how the World Cup turns out.

Here we are, on the verge of the mighty assignment, and the All Black squad has got more holes than a Swiss cheese at the OK Corral.

A static old fullback, no outstanding wings, almost no tried and trusted back-ups, a lock who hasn't played in anger for months, a front row that shows tendencies to fall over if Owen Franks is missing, muddling selections, minimal combinations, an erratic Dan Carter by his highest standards, consecutive losses on the eve of the tournament - this is hardly the mighty machine we were promised.

The rather cautious reports on Kieran Read's injury situation over the weekend would have increased the home fans' nervousness and further exposed the fragility beneath Henry's first-string line-up.

As everybody knows or should know, Deans was nobbled to protect a few fragile NZRU egos looking to make amends for the 2007 debacle and desperate to retain control by keeping their little cabal together. The Henry fan club chimed in, providing the complementary excuses, such as the one about a failed World Cup coach being a better World Cup coach. A few bright sparks even advanced the idea that Deans had nothing to do with the Crusaders' success.

That is not to say the 2007 experience hasn't added to Henry's store of knowledge. Henry certainly can coach and has a fine record to back him up. Nor is it to say that Henry's regime hasn't had successes - Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock have surged ahead, and the midfield combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith is a winner for now, although doubts should remain about Nonu if he is not on the front foot.

Henry, with such vast and varied international experience, also appears very relaxed, which is important under pressure and doubly important amid the pressures that will be more evident playing the tournament at home.

But the point is this: under the circumstances of his reappointment, and with playing resources that other international coaches would kill for, Henry has fallen well short of the mark on the eve of the tournament.

The All Blacks had to be in much better shape than this to justify what happened in the dark recesses of the NZRU headquarters four years ago.

Insiders close to Henry told me during the last tournament that if he had a weakness, it was an inability to bring his offsiders into line, that there was too much horse trading involving Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith which affected overall strategy.

In other words, a lot of trees and not enough forest.

You sense this has got in the way of his plans again, especially where Smith's dilly-dallying has turned what should be a strong point, the outside backs, into a place of uncertainty.

The recent calls to promote Richard Kahui to the wing are bang on the mark, but making Hail Mary calls at this late stage is not what the Henry reappointment was supposed to lead to after eight years in charge.

The strength of support for Henry following the 2007 tournament was a touch mysterious, considering the venom which other failed World Cup coaches endured. Something about Henry connects favourably with middle New Zealand. John Hart and John Mitchell were not afforded such leeway, and Laurie Mains only escaped via the Susie clause.

If injuries don't bite too hard, the home ground advantages and individual All Black playing strengths allied to a mainly weak international game should see the All Blacks claim rugby's ultimate prize.

If this occurs, Henry will get the praise, and he'll deserve a lot of it. Maybe the lessons he learned in 2007 will emerge during the tournament.

But Henry has not produced a squad to justify, in any significant way, his reselection or the callous nobbling of Deans, which stands at the front of New Zealand sporting injustices.

Tryless final

Ooops. The rugby world has descended upon our land and what happens - a tryless ITM Cup final. So much for the flowing rugby ...

Congratulations (yet again) to Canterbury. New Zealand's finest rugby factory keeps churning out the winners.

WEEKEND WINNER

The welcomes for World Cup teams - the warmth and sincerity that Maori protocol delivers is moving, as is the response from teams. The French and their supporters, for instance, replied in song at the Orakei Marae. You almost, for an instant, believe the world can be at one.

WHAT TO WATCH

Ummmmmmm ... the All Blacks versus Tonga for a kickoff (among the rugby, a very important NRL playoff game also takes place in Brisbane on Saturday night).

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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