All Blacks seek victory in Tri-Nations to boost their Cup spirits
Saturday 27 August 2011
It still takes some believing that New Zealand, hosts of next month's World Cup, can voluntarily go in search of a first global title in almost a quarter of a century without the services of Hosea Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu, by common consent two of the scariest wings in the sport.
Yet victory in today's Tri-Nations decider against Australia in Brisbane will provide early justification for Graham Henry's approach to back-line selection.
The All Black coach has gone for Cory Jane and Zac Guildford as his principal wide men, and both start the game against a Wallaby combination shorn – again willingly – of a big-hitter of their own in Matt Giteau. There will be a degree of heat on the relatively diminutive Guildford, in particular, for the silver-ferned community have grown used to hulking great physical specimens stampeding down the left touchline on their behalf. However, the New Zealand management prize the Hawke's Bay player's energy, work rate and instinctive timing on the inside run.
Australia have beaten their near neighbours only once in 10 meetings stretching back to 2008 and James Horwill, their new captain, will discover a few things about leadership under pressure if his front-rowers fail to stack up against Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and the fast-developing Owen Franks. But Brisbane is real Wallaby heartland: the union code has a bigger hold on the public imagination in Queensland than anywhere else in the country. If the home side can find a way to win this one, the chances of another New Zealand failure at World Cup level will be enhanced.
Whatever happens today, the All Blacks will have a new management team before Christmas. Henry, whose seven years and 95 Tests in charge have yielded a remarkable 85 per cent win rate, will call it a day after the forthcoming tournament and the governing body in New Zealand has no intention of letting the grass grow under its feet.
"Our internal review will be short and sharp," promised Steve Tew, the chief executive of the NZRFU, who added that only people currently coaching in the country, or had done so for three of the last five years, would be considered – a stand that rules out the likes of Warren Gatland, the former All Black hooker who is currently working with Wales. "There won't be a general ad in the paper," Tew said. "Only specific people who qualify."
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