Sir Graham Henry doesn't think the All Blacks have harboured an aura of invincibility, in the wake of the loss to South Africa in Wellington last Saturday.

"That's the beauty about the All Blacks. They are humble and they have the feet on the ground so I think this will add to their humbleness," said Henry in Hastings yesterday.

"They don't think that way ... the rest of the world might think that way and I'm sure the Irish don't, who I think will be our biggest competitors going into the world cup," he said.

Henry said rugby needed competition so the Springboks' 36-34 victory at the Cake Tin in the Four Nations test was timely to instil the belief that the ABs were beatable for New Zealand and the world.


"If we don't have a competition then we don't have a game," he said as the All Blacks embark on a campaign for a world cup three-peat under coach Steve Hansen, who was Henry's assistant.

Henry gave an interview at the Hastings Boys' High School before making an appearance as chief guest speaker at the annual Old Boys' Dinner last night at the school hall for the induction of Sir Neil Anderson, Professor John Broughton and Brian Cunningham to the wall of fame.

In a jocular vein, he reflected on his friendship with HBHS principal Rob Sturch, with whom he had also forged a working relationship as educators and administrators at Kelston Boys' High School in Auckland since 1982.

However, the All Blacks will play Argentina at Buenos Aires on Sunday, September 30, before wrapping up their Four Nations campaign against South Africa at Loftus Versfield Stadium, Pretoria, on Sunday, October 7.

"I think they are in great shape," said the 72-year-old, who mentored the ABs to glory in the 2011 Rugby World Cup before picking up the accolade as coach of the year at the IRB awards.

"I think the loss against the Springboks will be good for them."

Henry said it wasn't easy for a team to be posting yawning margins against rivals while maintaining a standard that ensures incremental gains to provide that mental fortitude required to be the best in the world.

"The result against the Springboks will be just what the doctor ordered, quite frankly," he said.

"It'll bring them back to earth."

Henry said it was the All Blacks were all about bringing themselves back down to earth so the defeat was the ideal panacea for that.

"It's very difficult to talk about it when you're winning by convincing scores week in, week out in test-match rugby so that brings them back to earth and they can refocus."

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is trying to get the right balance. Photo/NZME
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is trying to get the right balance. Photo/NZME

Henry felt Hansen was employing the adjustment bureau appropriately with the Rugby World Cup looming in Japan from September 20 to November 2 next year.

"Half of Steve's head will be in the now and half of his head will be on how we're going to win the world cup in 2019 so it's [just a case of] getting that balance right is what he's trying to do right now."

He said Hansen would be in the throes of getting his right mix of 32, or whatever it was, for the biggest rugby stage while ensuring they kept a meaningful presence in the lead up to the business end.

"He's doing that. Okay we had a bit of a hiccup against the Springboks."

While the media and keyboard warriors have their views, he said Hansen was more or less playing his XV.

"He may have underestimated the Springboks last week but didn't we all?"

The South Africans had lost two matches on the trot against the Pumas and the Wallabies but the old foes looked the part and did the job with aplomb here in the capital city.

"I think they've done New Zealand a big service in doing that."

The All Blacks, Henry said, had won close to 90 per cent of their test matches which was a fabulous result.

"It just means they need to press on to try to be better and improve as a team."

The absence of Brodie Retallick, he said, was possibly a factor in the result but he hastened to add the likes of Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett were "very fine players".

"Brodie's the best in the world so if you take him out of the middle row then it'll cause some problems although problems is probably to great a word," he said of the two-metre, 121kg Hawke's Bay Magpie who also represents the Chiefs in Super Rugby.

All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick is the best in the world, says Sir Graham Henry, so taking him out will cause problems. Photo/NZME
All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick is the best in the world, says Sir Graham Henry, so taking him out will cause problems. Photo/NZME

The 27-year-old, who wore the fluorescent green waterboy bib last Saturday night, has an impeccable record for the men in black.

He has not played in three of the last four All Blacks' defeats and didn't run out in the 2014 loss to the Boks either.

Amazingly since Retallick made his debut in 2012, he has been involved in only three matches where the All Blacks have found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger.

"Barrett, the lock forward, is a very good footballer," Henry said.

"And Sam Whitelock is a world-class footballer so it's just one of those things but they still should have done the job in those circumstances and they didn't."

Henry suspected All Blacks captain Kieran Read and his go-to players on the field felt they could have secured victory in the dying minutes with a try when the Springboks were down to 14 men with fullback Willie Le Roux in the sin bin.

"If you look at the All Blacks' history and the way they play, I think they were being confident and that they were going to score a try."

The drop goal, he said, was perhaps in the recess of the minds of protagonists.

Henry said that mental lapse was all part of the learning process although he could comprehend the rationale behind wanting to score the try given the permutations at a crucial juncture of the game.

"Nineteen times out of 20 they would have but this is the one time in 20 when they didn't so we can all sit back and criticise why they didn't."

Consequently he felt the All Blacks needed to have both options handy when push came to shove.

"When was the last time they were under that sort of pressure?

"Now everybody sits back, you know, to say 'Oh yeah, they should have taken a dropped goal and yeah, yeah yeah ... ',' but they don't get into that situation very seldom."

All Blacks captain Kieran Read barks vents his spleen at his players past substitute halfback TJ Perenara in the loss to the Springboks last Saturday. Photo/Photosport
All Blacks captain Kieran Read barks vents his spleen at his players past substitute halfback TJ Perenara in the loss to the Springboks last Saturday. Photo/Photosport

In Read's defence, he said the skipper would have been hell bent on scoring a try given the permutations, something Henry felt he would have done, too.

"In hindsight we can say they should have taken a drop goal and, yeah, they should have and the next time they will," he said, agreeing the decision on switching from Beauden Barrett as conversion kicker should have perhaps come earlier but he was loath to criticise Read.

Henry said the ABs were spoilt for choices in high calibre players. He had "huge time" for Ben Smith but felt Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie were "very, very good".

"McKenzie, just a couple of months ago, was outstanding against the French in Dunedin so we're lucky and we don't know how lucky we are.

"We get beaten one game out of 10 and we're all out in the dumps," he said, emphasising it was pivotal to learn from such experiences.

"Yes, I think Ben's No 1 and Steve's just trying things out there and he'll probably be the fullback for the Rugby World Cup."

With the fullback and first five-eighth perhaps the most pivotal positions, he said it was heartening to see the emergence of Richie Mo'unga, although he didn't measure up to the public expectations on debut against Argentina in Nelson.

"He's played superbly for the Crusaders, he's the future ... we've probably three of the top four five-eighths in the world who are playing in the country so, again, we're very fortunate."

Asked if the likes of inexperienced internationals, such as Mo'unga, urgently needed more game time before the world cup, Henry reiterated the challenge was how to play the preferred XV while blooding other squad members.

"Richie Mo'unga's opportunity will come and he's a very good footballer," he said.

"Beaudy Barrett's the best in the world. Okay he had an off day on his day against the Springboks but he's the best first five-eighth in the world."

McKenzie, he said, also has been "outstanding" in that department.