Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Pressure racheted up a notch on new regime

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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. Photo / NZ Herald.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. Photo / NZ Herald.

Turnover. It's become the catchphrase in commentaries and the nugget for coaches.

When teams pilfer possession from the opposition they can create havoc against disorganised defences. Every rugby coach drools about those occasions.

The other turnover comes when a new All Black coach takes charge.

When Graham Henry succeeded John Mitchell after the 2003 World Cup he brought in assistants and ideas from his time coaching north of the equator.

For their first hit-out against England at Carisbrook, Henry and Co picked seven players who had started the final test of Mitchell's reign.

Four backs - Mils Muliaina, Doug Howlett, Joe Rokocoko and Carlos Spencer - made the cut with Richie McCaw, Chris Jack and Keven Mealamu staying in the pack.

Reuben Thorne was bypassed as skipper with Tana Umaga appointed as the first Polynesian leader of the side.

Nine years on, we have the next changing of the coaching guard with Steve Hansen elevated to head honcho.

Inadvertently he has repeated the numerical selection changes from the last regime.

Seven men who started the World Cup final return to Eden Park tonight.

Skipper Richie McCaw remains after surgery to screw his bung foot together as half the mob who claimed the Webb Ellis Cup set off on another rugby expedition.

Global supremacy may have been claimed last October but if anything, the pressure is now racheted up a shade.

The All Blacks under Henry delivered a remarkable record with 88 wins in 103 tests, only losing to the Springboks, Wallabies and France.

Hansen and Co have to take that record and the game forward.

They have been bold in their selections and forced into some choices because of the lack of competition. Injuries have bitten into the wing choices and the depth at lock has been exposed.

There is though an excess of options at prop, flanker, halfback and five-eighths which have not always existed.

So Hansen and his crew will send their troops on to Eden Park tonight with McCaw and a leadership spine entrusted to deliver the instructions.

Henry and his side only tasted defeat once at the start of a season in 2009 when they fell 22-27 to France.

Three times they got their year off to a bouncy start with victories against Ireland.

Now Hansen and the All Blacks are offered that same foe to quell as they have done, apart from one deadlock, since the first of their 24 meetings way back in 1905 or to suffer the ignominy of an historic defeat.

It will surprise if the All Blacks do not win by 15 points or more, it will stun more than just two nations if they are defeated.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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