Rugby Union: Mains confident of keeping his job: All Blacks crisis

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

NEW ZEALAND'S determination to win the World Cup will be reflected in the deliberations this week over the All Blacks' coach.

Laurie Mains' worst sin was to lose the Bledisloe Cup to Australia last month, although that ultimately came down to a young winger having the ball jolted from his grasp as he plunged over the line.

Even Mains' critics rate the last 40 minutes of that match as the best rugby seen from the All Blacks in some time. Despite that, and even though there is little time left before the World Cup, Mains' job is under threat.

Today, a New Zealand Rugby Football Union sub-committee will begin interviewing John Hart and several other contenders for the job, including Ross Cooper, Earle Kirton and Peter Thorburn, before making recommendations to the full council in a week's time.

'I cannot stress enough how important it is for the future of New Zealand rugby that we get this right,' the NZRFU chairman, Eddie Tonks, said.

Only Hart is seen as a realistic threat to Mains. There is speculation that Hart wants the job with a coaching team that would include Graham Mourie, the great All Black captain of the 1970s who was in rugby exile for a long time after accepting royalties on his autobiography.

Mains has come under pressure after a season in which the All Blacks won only two of six Tests, although the opposition was formidable - France, South Africa and Australia. Mains, though, believes he will keep his job. 'We beat South Africa and, as everyone knows, but for the drop of a ball on the line we would have beaten Australia,' he said.

If history is any guide Hart's prospects would seem less than encouraging, despite a string of coaching successes. He took Auckland to the top of provincial rugby in the mid-1980s and achieved impressive results on New Zealand's tour of Japan in 1987, and with the New Zealand colts.

But on returning from Japan he was surprisingly passed over in favour of Mains' predecessor, Alex Wyllie. Then, after the 1991 season, the NZRFU council disregarded the recommendation of its own selection sub-committee and opted for Mains ahead of Hart.