All Blacks rugby coach Graham Henry is unashamedly a fan of the Super 15's new conference format, but he is not so keen on revealing which players have impressed him most during the first four weeks of the revamped competition.

Henry and his assistants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen have been in Wellington this week to meet with and work alongside the Hurricanes, an exercise they will undertake with the other four New Zealand franchises in the coming weeks.

Henry took time out to address the media on a wide range of issues but it soon became clear he is enjoying the Super 15's new format, which sees more 'derby' matches in each country.

"I think New Zealand teams playing each other is positive, there is extra edge in those games and more interest for the New Zealand rugby public. It's also good for the selectors who see players playing against each other, so it has been a positive start," he said today.

"Some of the games have been of high quality, others not so good, but that is what you expect from early season rugby. What we want is competition and what we have got is a number of players who are vying for the All Blacks."

Henry had been impressed by the Highlanders' start with the southern franchise: perennial underachievers in recent years, they are sitting atop the New Zealand conference after three wins and a loss under new coach Jamie Joseph.

Captain and prop Jamie Mackintosh and flanker Adam Thomson, who Henry described as the star of the first month, had been particularly impressive.

"I think Jamie and his fellow coaches have done a great job, the team has pulled together well," Henry said.

"Jamie Mackintosh has led well and a lot of players have played a particularly high quality of rugby. Adam Thomson has been the star of the first month of Super 15 rugby, particularly from the New Zealand perspective.

"I guess Jamie's challenge is to maintain that and to build more depth in the squad so those guys don't run into a brick wall. I though Adam Thomson's first three games were outstanding, but his fourth game (in a 6-18 loss to the Stormers last week) he was ... not at the same level because he is tired.

"As far as the Highlanders are concerned to maintain that high level is a real challenge and the only way to do that is to bring the extra players in and give players (such as Thomson) a rest."

Other than Mackintosh and Thomson, who Henry said was a possibility to be Richie McCaw's backup at openside flanker, Henry was uninterested in revealing the names which had leapt out at him in the early rounds.

"I don't want to go into that because if I begin talking about young players in the media, they get a different perception about what they're doing and it affects the way they play and they worry about selection rather than playing well, and that's just a negative."

Instead, he and his assistants would meet one-on-one with players they currently see as potential All Blacks and work alongside the franchise coaches to improve their individual performances.

The coach said he was unconcerned about the injury-enforced absence of key All Blacks such as Mils Muliaina (back injury) and captain McCaw, who is recovering from foot surgery and could be out until round nine.

One point of frustration from the opening rounds had been the issues both teams and referees were having at scrum time.

"The scrum is still a frustration with the number of resets and referees are bailing out of those now and giving free kicks and penalties and it would be disappointing if we don't get the scrum right, because it is a very important part of the game," Henry said.

"To finish up with free kicks and penalties instead of scrums is a negative in my opinion. And the dominant scrum seems to be the one getting into trouble and it shouldn't be."

- NZPA