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Henry Happy With All Blacks Tour

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Graham Henry
Graham Henry

Auckland, Dec 8 NZPA - Five rugby test wins and a strengthened team culture has left All Blacks coach Graham Henry a happy man at the end of the northern hemisphere tour.

The All Blacks arrived back in Auckland today to a low-key reception, with as many media present as there were members of the public.

Those fans who were present took full opportunity to get as many photos as possible with the players, who were obliging but in some cases looked weary at the end of their flight from London and keen to get home.

Henry said the loss to a Springbok-dominated Barbarians team on Sunday (NZT) did not put a dampener on a tour which saw victories over Australia, Wales, Italy, England and France.

"We won five test matches out of the five test matches, and if we'd said that before we left we would have been delighted with that, so we achieved what we wanted to achieve."

Henry said the 39-12 victory over France in one of the most open running matches of the season was particularly pleasing.

"It takes two teams to do that. They both wanted to scrum, both wanted to use the ball at the breakdown, both wanted to turn the pill over and use the ball in their hands, so that's a hell of a good criteria for a top rugby game, so France deserve a lot of credit," he said.

"We got a big thrill out of it too because we'd been knocking on the door for a while and we just got the confidence and got a couple of good early tries and the boys expressed themselves.

"That would be one of the best test matches this group of coaches has been involved in so it was very pleasing."

Just as important to Henry was what he said was a strengthened culture within the team off the field.

"There was a lot of unity. We had a lot of people who couldn't play during the year who came back, and we had some new players who joined the tour, and new blood actually adds a bit of energy."

Henry said he was happy the rotation of the roles of himself and assistant coaches Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen had worked well, but acknowledged some players didn't do as well as he would have liked.

"We've got some players who played well who were new players in the team, and others who would be disappointed in how they played, so we've got some depth problems in some positions," he said.

"They've got another chance in the Super 14 next year, so they've always got a chance at redemption."

Henry rated the season which included four test losses -- three to South Africa -- as a good one and he was pleased with the improvement during the year.

"We're probably about 70 percent there," he said.

"We had players out with injury (earlier in the year) and we were trying to win games without the experienced backbone there, and that's good experience for the guys who are actually playing, there's a lot of pressure on them.

"Once the team gelled again and most of the senior players were playing together again and had some time together, it started to get better."

Henry told reporters he hoped the New Zealand Rugby Union would stick with its planned change to the Air New Zealand Cup format. He said the 10-team competition with the next six in a second-tier league had been discussed and agreed upon and that further change would only lead to further debate.

However, he said he was confident good players would emerge whatever the format.

"I don't think it will make any difference to the depth. I think you'll see the players who've got the quality will make sure they play football."

He did however call for Super 14 coaches to work closely with him, Smith and Hansen to ensure All Blacks players did not get burned out in Super 14 next year.

"I think we just need to make wise decisions, otherwise guys are going to fall over," he said.

"I think they need to work very closely with their franchise coaches and the All Blacks coaches and make good decisions so guys have got longevity in the game."


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