Grand Slam talk no longer hush hush
November 23, 2008
All Blacks coach Graham Henry embraces Brad Thorn following the victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
"Grand Slam" is back in the All Blacks' vocabulary as they close in own their second rugby clean sweep of the Home Unions and Ireland in three years.
Players and management have avoided the phrase since arriving in the UK on November 3 but after adding Wales to the scalps of Scotland and Ireland at Millennium Stadium last night there was no more skirting the words that have always formed the motivation for the European leg of their tour.
Head coach Graham Henry finally acknowledged the terminology in the aftermath of New Zealand's 29-9 defeat of the Six Nations champions. "You don't want to get ahead of yourselves on these things -- a lot of teams have come here over the years talking about Grand Slams," he said, explaining his previous reluctance to embrace the tag.
"We didn't want to get into that situation, I think it's arrogant," he said. "Now I guess it's a reality. I think we can try and focus on trying to win a game at Twickenham -- there's a Grand Slam at stake."
Having brushed aside Scotland 32-6 and Ireland 22-3 before notching their 20th successive test win over the Welsh only 2007 World Cup runners-up England can prevent Henry replicating his successful campaign in the UK and Ireland in late 2005.
And the signs appear encouraging after England suffered their heaviest-ever loss at Twickenham, a 42-6 hammering by South Africa yesterday. The five-try try thumping follows a rare Australian win on English soil -- 28-14 last weekend.
Those defeats have cast an immediate pall over the managerial regime of Martin Johnson, five years to the day he lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy in Sydney. Henry sympathised with the man who captained his British and Irish Lions team to a 1-2 series loss in Australia seven years ago.
"Martin has a lot of character, I've a lot of time for him," Henry said. "He'll put his big chin out, take it on the chin and get on with it.
"It might take him a little bit of time for him to get the side where he wants them to be."
Henry planned to watch a video of South Africa's demolition job when the team arrived in London to prepare for Saturday's tour finale.
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Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September