The All Black coach has r' />


There is no sermon yet from Mt Henry, no public statements about the All Blacks' end-of-year tour.

The All Black coach has returned from his mid-NPC break, been seen studying an Auckland training but has not yet broken into public utterances.

Herald inquiries about an interview were rebuffed. An NZRFU spokesman explained that Henry wanted to address the board before members read about his ideas through the media.

All we know is that the All Blacks will play tests against Italy, Wales and France starting on November 14 (NZ time) before ending their tour against the Barbarians at Twickenham on December 5.

It is also understood 26 players will be chosen for the final leg of the All Blacks' season, with a departure date in seven weeks.

The greatest mystery surrounds the makeup of that playing group.

After all the utterances about burnout, fatigue and exhaustion, will Henry go the way of his predecessor, John Mitchell, and rest a swag of his test group?

In 2002, Mitchell left behind 21 of that year's All Black squad who were either struggling or needed surgery. Of the new faces who went on that three-test tour to England, France and Wales, only Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Rodney So'oialo appear strong contenders this time.

Henry may be wrestling with a number of theories.

He and his coaching/selection team are on two-year deals where results will have some significance in their performance reviews.

After a strong start against England, the All Blacks' form tailed off into twin Tri-Nations defeats.

Some players did not push on from the Super 12 and there should be ongoing debate about whether the All Blacks are being asked to play the right style.

Whatever the discussions, the All Blacks need to succeed on the end-of-year tour. Italy and Wales will present their own difficulties but France should be the toughest test hurdle.

Henry needs results as a lead-in to next year's tour from the Lions. Too many stumbles and the rumblings will become a roar of discontent as observers point to Mitchell's strong record when he was sacked.

However, Henry will also want to look at developing a few new players. Having them on the short tour of Europe, in the All Black environment, should be invaluable. Some can be tried against either Italy or Wales and the Barbarians.

It looms as a delicate selection balance between pragmatism and the future.

There must also be difficulties trolling through the NPC and judging whether some players can step up to international rugby. Only the selectors know where they need to try alternates, who is a certainty but could do with a rest and how much more they can get out of others used in the All Black squad this season.

As an exercise the Herald picked a form NPC XV, excluding anyone who appeared for the All Blacks this season, to see who might interest the national panel.

The back three were a problem, especially as Sitiveni Sivivatu is ineligible until after the tour, while five-eighths Glen Jackson is heading off to a Saracens contract next season.

Kevin Senio was the best all-round halfback until he badly damaged his ankle and will miss the rest of the season. Jimmy Cowan was on standby for the All Blacks this season and is physically abrasive but without much finesse to his game.

Midfield backs Conrad Smith and Luke McAlister are the two best backline options but are up against a congested field.

The physical impact of So'oialo and fellow Wellington loose forward Ben Herring has been impressive, and Wayne Ormond has been a superbly conditioned, aggressive leader at Bay of Plenty.

All three should be considered, while young Wellington lock Ross Kennedy is a genuine lineout target who has a presence round the field.

With Kees Meeuws ready to leave for the Castres club in France, sorting out another loosehead prop should be a priority. Former All Black Joe McDonnell has impressed at Wellington while Tony Penn and Simms Davison are other prospects.