No lack of respect in All Black selection, says Henry
New Zealand coach Graham Henry insisted his decision to make six changes in his starting line-up to play Wales here at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday was not demeaning to the home side.
Henry was obliged to make two changes to the team that beat Australia 32-19 in Tokyo last Saturday, with 20-year-old debutant wing Zac Guildford replacing Sitiveni Sivivatu and Wyatt Crockett taking over from prop Tony Woodcock because of suspensions for foul play arising out of the Wallabies match.
But the former Wales coach has gone further with scrum-half Brendon Leonard coming in for Jimmy Cowan while, up front, Kieran Read starts at No. 8, flanker Jerome Kaino replaces Adam Thomson and lock Jason Eaton takes over in the second-row from Tom Donnelly.
New Zealand haven’t lost to Wales since 1953, a run of 20 straight Test wins, but Henry said the changes had more to do with finding out about the international prospects of several players rather than the All Blacks’ past record in this fixture.
“We need to know if all these players are up to international standard,” Henry said after announcing his team here on Wednesday.
“We are using this game to address one or two of those question marks. It’s a big game.
“We’ve got a policy for the tour,” Henry said of a trip that also includes internationals against Italy, England and France.
“To enjoy the game and play well is one, and also to make sure 33 players on this tour get an opportunity to play.
“There is no disrespect to Wales—it’s a very strong side.
“We picked a side to play against Australia, and we’ve picked a side to play against Wales.”
New Zealand have only won the World Cup once, when they were the main hosts of the inaugural edition back in 1987.
In two years’ time the tournament returns to the rugby-obsessed nation with Henry, controversially re-appointed after his All Blacks failed to reach even the last four of the 2007 World Cup following a defeat by France in Cardiff, under pressure to deliver the Webb Ellis Trophy.
New Zealand lost three times in this year’s Tri-Nations, all against eventual title-winners and world champions South Africa.
That didn’t sit well in New Zealand and Henry’s response was the extraordinary decision to announce that he and his specialist assistant coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, also retained after the World Cup exit two years ago, were swopping roles.
That led Henry to replace longtime deputy Hansen, who succeeded him as Wales coach, in charge of the All Blacks’ under-performing pack.
Meanwhile Hansen has taken over the backs from former All Blacks fly-half Smith, now in charge of defence—previously Henry’s particular responsibility.
What the players make of it all is, as yet, something of an unknown.
Injuries have kept some senior All Blacks in New Zealand with experienced forwards Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu among those who are not on this tour.
But Henry, who knows better than anyone the likely reaction to a New Zealand World Cup ‘failure’ at home, was trying to keep his attention firmly focused on the present.
“The World Cup is a fair way away,” he said.
There are probably about 10 players at home because of injury, and there may be one or two currently overseas who will come home [for the World Cup].”
Meanwhile Hansen said Wales, despite some pessimistic predictions in the principality, would not be cowed by the weight of history.
“They’ve got a belief among themselves. They’ve won two [Six Nations] grand slams recently.
“One day they will win [against New Zealand]—I just hope it is not on Saturday.”
Star outside-half Dan Carter was named in New Zealand’s team despite a calf injury which has prevented him from training.
Henry said his condition would be monitored and that Stephen Donald would be included if Carter’s fitness did not come up to scratch.—AFP