Rugby Union: Blacks coach's dark times

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The Independent Online
JOHN HART, the New Zealand coach, admits his job may be on the line after three consecutive defeats - the All Blacks' worst run since 1949. On Saturday New Zealand lost 27-23 in their Tri-Nations Test and Bledisloe Cup match to Australia in Christchurch.

Hart said yesterday that if New Zealand lost their two remaining matches this season - against South Africa in Durban on 15 August and against Australia in Sydney on 29 August - he would understand why the New Zealand union might have to review his position.

New Zealand have suffered consecutive failures against Australia and have also been defeated by South Africa in the present Tri-Nations series.

"Obviously I'm under pressure because the buck invariably stops with the coach," Hart said. "That makes it a difficult time for me. I believe in the All Blacks, my resolve's harder. I've just got to go forward. We've got to get up and go. We're not on the canvas.

"I'm sure the [New Zealand] union will review my position," he said, responding to a question regarding the coaching staff's future if New Zealand lost the next two games. "They understand what is happening. They understand what we're going through, I know I've got the full support and confidence of all last night, which I appreciated."

Converted late tries from Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu failed to rescue the All Blacks in Saturday's game at Jade Park.

The Wallabies surged into a commanding 27-9 lead with touchdowns from Tom Bowman, Matt Burke, Jason Little and Stephen Larkham as they dashed their opponents' hopes of a much-needed victory. And New Zealand's late comeback could not disguise their shortcomings as they were overwhelmed by a near-flawless Australian performance.

As in their previous three Tests this season the All Blacks looked a team lacking on-field direction. The ball emerged from their rucks and mauls only slowly and fundamental errors such as handling and surrendering possession again marred their game.

Australia led 10-3 at half-time following unanswered tries by lock Tom Bowman in the seventh minute and full-back Matt Burke just before the interval. Their two second-half tries came from Little (41) and Larkham (70) before New Zealand responded through Cullen (77) and Lomu (81).

Hart will name a fresh All Blacks Test XV in a squad of 26 on Tuesday for the remaining two matches. He confirmed changes would be made to the team with the World Cup in mind.

Hart intends to name 40 players in October in his World Cup squad for next year. "This is a really dark time for us. It's a difficult time," he added. "What I knew was an issue has become a major issue - that's losing Sean Fitzpatrick and Frank Bunce at the same time.

"I knew it was going to be difficult without them, but I thought I had the capacity and experience in the team to step up. That has not happened."

As if things were not bad enough on the field for Hart, the New Zealand coach is also facing personal trauma - his brother, Graeme, is battling terminal cancer and pneumonia.

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