Grand Slam set back good for England claims New Zealand coach Graham Henry

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The Independent Online

New Zealand coach Graham Henry predicts England's failed Grand Slam attempt will make them a force at the World Cup.

Martin Johnson's side have been crowned RBS 6 Nations champions for the first time since 2003 despite a 24-8 rout by Ireland that ended their pursuit of the clean sweep.



Henry joked that the result is "annoying" and has been impressed by the rapid progress made by England over the last year.



"England are obviously a pretty good side," said the former Wales coach.



"Getting beaten by Ireland won't have done them any harm, which is annoying.



"The Irish Test will be a wake-up call that will make them a better side.



"They played well and will be a competitive side at the World Cup - again. We're impressed with what England have done this year.



"They're a better side now than they have been for a few years and they will get better. They're starting to play top-quality rugby again."



New Zealand, Australia and South Africa predictably lead the World Cup betting - in that order.



Henry, however, insists there is no guarantee a Tri-Nations side will win the tournament and expects northern hemisphere teams to mount a challenge this autumn.



"England made the final in 2007 and they won the previous World Cup," he said.



"There's no established order at the World Cup, plenty of teams have the potential to do well. That won't change this time.



"With France you're just not sure who will turn up, but they have a lot of quality players to pick from.



"They will be competitive because they have the players to do the business.



"The Irish showed against England that they can produce a top game.



"Wales have the players to be very competitive if they put some bits and pieces together. They are in reasonable form.



"As World Cups have shown in the past, it's about producing the goods at the time.



"Often lead-up form is not a good indication of success."



New Zealand know only too well that results heading into the World Cup count for nothing when the hostilities begin.



For the past 24 years the All Blacks have dominated Test rugby yet have won the sport's ultimate prize just once, at the inaugural event in 1987.



Given that the 2011 edition is on home soil, Henry accepts the pressure will be greater than ever.



"There is obviously a huge expectation among the New Zealand public for the All Blacks to win the Rugby World Cup," he said.



"That's right and proper and I've not got a problem with that.



"They've gone a few years without that happening so I guess every time it does not happen the expectation gets higher.



"The All Blacks are pretty aware of the expectation and that's why the All Blacks train at an optimum level.



"It's a positive, not a negative. We understand that and accept it. Hopefully, it's motivational.



"We're just trying to get better. We've had a successful run for a while but that's not a guarantee for success at the World Cup, as everyone knows."



:: Tickets for Investec Super Rugby Crusaders v Sharks at Twickenham stadium on March 27 (4pm) can be purchased online via rfu.com/tickets or by telephone 0844 847 2492. £5 from each ticket sold will go to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.



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