Henry dangles Rugby World Cup carrot
September 20, 2009
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans talks to the All Blacks following their victory in Wellington © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry insists their season-ending tour will be a chance for players to "cement" their names in the Rugby World Cup mix.
The All Blacks ended their Tri-Nations campaign with a 33-6 thrashing of cross-Tasman rivals Australia in Wellington having relinquished their title to South Africa the previous weekend.
And Henry immediately turned his attention to the team's six-game tour which has been touted as an opportunity to develop new players. But the veteran coach was having none of it, saying only "one or two" new faces were likely in the tour squad, who play the first of five Tests against Australia in Tokyo on October 31. Tests against Wales, Italy, England and France follow before a match against the Barbarians.
The vast majority of the Tri-Nations squad will be among the 32 to 34 players on the plane -- that number is still to be confirmed - with the 2011 Rugby World Cup now firmly in Henry's consciousness.
"It's an opportunity for the guys to cement themselves into the thinking of the selectors for the Rugby World Cup. That's part of the deal, one way or another," Henry said. "It's a good way of guys getting their feet under the table with the All Blacks or not doing so. So there's pressure on individuals to play well but also big test matches to play as well."
Henry would not specify which positions would be hardest to select. He confirmed three scrum-halves and three hookers would tour and that hooker Keven Mealamu, lock Ali Williams and centre Richard Kahui were three certainties to miss out because of injury.
Henry referred more than once to the French Test in Marseille on November 28 when asked to assess the challenge of the tour, suggesting that game would provide a focal point. It seems Air NZ Cup action over the next month will not play a major role in squad selection, with Henry to consider the form of players from the next tier up when looking beyond his Tri-Nations personnel.
"Do we take some of the 20-year-olds on this tour or do we use the Super 14 as the selection vehicle for those players?" Henry asked. "I'd imagine one or two will go on the tour but most will have to prove themselves through the Super 14."
Meanwhile, Henry voiced concern about a trend in the domestic game whereby players are signing with a Super 14 franchise not aligned to their Air NZ Cup province but remaining on the books of that province. One player who will hop between two bases next year is rising Hawke's Bay winger Zac Guildford, who recently signed with the Crusaders.
"It's a difficult system socially for them because they've got no fixed abode, no real home base," Henry said. "Unless you've got your life sorted very well, for a young guy that could be quite challenging. I just hope they get a lot of support when they do that so they can handle those sort of things."
All Blacks' tour schedule:-
History of Tri-Nations standings: