Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Henry predicts an Aussie battering

Sir Graham Henry. Photo / Richard Robinson
Sir Graham Henry. Photo / Richard Robinson

Former coach Graham Henry believes the gap will widen between the All Blacks and Wallabies for their return Bledisloe Cup meeting at Eden Park.

He attended the modest opening duel in Sydney and saw an All Black side which was "considerably better" than the Wallabies as they edged out to a 27-19 victory.

Henry felt the difference between the rivals could be quite significant when they pitched up on Saturday for the second of three meetings this year.

Though Henry said he was disappointed at the quality of the Sydney contest, he was most impressed with the side's transition from his guidance to Steve Hansen's leadership.

"Whether it was done deliberately or we tripped over it, I'm not sure, but the continuity of people over the last 8-10 years is hugely important," he said.

The bulk of last year's World Cup management team were still involved and that was a recipe for constant improvement.

Retaining captain Richie McCaw, his deputy Daniel Carter and five of the leadership group, meant the All Blacks understood what had gone wrong in the past and what needed to be fixed in the future.

"For years there has been a coach for two years or four years then bang, out. All new management comes in, nobody knows what has gone on in the past and you start again and it takes you 18 months to get your feet under the table.

"So I think this is superb and I can see the All Blacks going from strength to strength."

The great thing was the number of young talented players in New Zealand, with those such as Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano and Charlie Faumuina all examples of that emerging group.

"I think we have the best breeding ground of young rugby players in the world - in fact we have - and with only 140,000 players we can still be up there as the best team in the world. That speaks a lot for the development of players throughout the country and the competitions in which they play," Henry said.

The All Blacks have made just one change to their lineup for the next challenge from the Wallabies, with Wyatt Crockett starting at loosehead instead of Tony Woodcock, who suffered rib cartilage damage last week. Woodcock was struck down on 87 caps - the Aussies' unlucky number - while Daniel Carter will play his 89th test and Keven Mealamu his 94th.

"We are expecting that Australia will take a step up in their intensity after last weekend's loss and we will have to be ready for that challenge," Hansen said.

While the All Blacks hold their trainings behind closed doors, the Wallabies have followed suit for the first time in Robbie Deans' tutelage. They barricaded themselves away, with new captain Will Genia apparently having a few testy moments about prying eyes.

The pressure is building on the Wallabies and Deans after last week's tepid offering and the meltdowns of some players like Kurtley Beale and Anthony Faingaa.

There is a growing belief across the Tasman that Deans will reintroduce Quade Cooper at five-eighths, a selection which will throw him into combat with the All Blacks and the crowds that baited him at the World Cup.

All Blacks (number of tests in brackets):
1. Wyatt Crockett (6)
2. Keven Mealamu (94)
3. Owen Franks (35)
4. Luke Romano (2)
5. Samuel Whitelock (29)
6. Liam Messam (11)
7. Richie McCaw - captain (107)
8. Kieran Read (39)
9. Aaron Smith (4)
10. Daniel Carter (88)
11. Hosea Gear (10)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (18)
13. Ma'a Nonu (67)
14. Cory Jane (32)
15. Israel Dagg (16)

Reserves:

16. Andrew Hore (66)
17. Ben Franks (19)
18. Brodie Retallick (4)
19. Victor Vito (14)
20. Piri Weepu (60)
21. Aaron Cruden (11)
22. Ben Smith (5)

- NZ Herald

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