New Zealand coach Graham Henry is expecting a tough time when his side visits Lansdowne Road on Saturday week.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry
New Zealand coach Graham Henry is expecting a tough time when his side visits Lansdowne Road on Saturday week (November 12).
The All Blacks have enjoyed a very successful calendar year with a 3-0 “Blackwash” of the British & Irish Lions during the summer and their subsequent crowing as 2005 Tri Nations champions.
Certainly on the crest of a wave, Henry’s 35-man squad touched down on flight NZ1 at Heathrow on Friday ahead of next month’s four-Test Grand Slam tour of the UK and Ireland.
The All Blacks squad, which includes five uncapped players – Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Jason Eaton (Taranaki), Chris Masoe (Taranaki), Angus Macdonald (Auckland) and Neemia Tialata (Wellington), is hoping to join a select band of “Grand Slam” tourists who have emerged unbeaten against the home nations.
Australia managed the feat back in 1984 with wins over England (19-3), Ireland (16-9), Wales (28-9) and Scotland (37-12).
It may be over four months since “that tackle” that ended Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll’s Lions tour as skipper but the All Blacks’ presence over here, coupled with some damning new amateur video footage of Kiwi duo Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu lifting and “spearing” O’Driscoll in June’s first Test, will see the incident continue to dog Henry and company for the new few weeks.
Even though O’Driscoll is recovering from the dislocated shoulder he sustained against the All Blacks, his name was not far from reporters’ lips at Henry’s first press conference in London on Friday.
Asked about the new spear tackle footage, which was shown on Sky Sports last week, Henry said: “Brian has a book coming out and I assume the video was held back to coincide with it,” said Henry.
“There are a lot of injuries in rugby – we’ve had two guys who can’t tour because they are injured – and it’s part and parcel of the game.
“I know Brian. I coached the Lions in 2001 and he was a key member of that side. He’s a high quality player and a top person.
“We’ve got every sympathy with him. It’s an unfortunate thing that happened and we wish him well. But what can we do? We can’t wave a magic wand and suddenly he is fit again.”
Henry is playing down his side’s chances of pulling off the historic “Grand Slam”, admitting: “If a Grand Slam occurs, that would be a bonus, quite frankly.
“It’s not an easy thing to do. The Springboks came over last year as Tri-Nations Champions, they’d given us a hammering in Johannesburg, and they lost to England and Ireland, so we know it will be hard.”
“It’s always tough at Lansdowne Road. Ireland beat the Springboks there last year. The conditions make it a difficult place to play and whenever I’ve been there it’s been hard.
“England will be festering after their disappointing show last year. They’ll be out to get back to their World Cup level.
“I think they’ll be harder Tests than the Lions were. Those players who were on that tour will be highly motivated to put that memory behind them.”
Meanwhile, prop Greg Somerville and utility back Luke McAlister were both ruled out of the All Blacks’ end of season tour in past days.
Somerville, 27, suffered a calf muscle injury during Canterbury’s Ranfurly Shield defence against Auckland earlier this month, and he failed a fitness test ahead of the departure for London.
Somerville was replaced in the squad by Auckland’s Saimone Taumoepeau.
Otago’s Nick Evans has come in for McAlister, who misses out with a knee injury.
NEW ZEALAND SQUAD (UK & Ireland Tour):
Backs: Mils Muliaina (Auckland), Leon MacDonald (Canterbury), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Rico Gear (Nelson Bays), Doug Howlett (Auckland), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Ma’a Nonu (Wellington), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Tana Umaga (Wellington, captain), Aaron Mauger (Canterbury), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Nick Evans (Otago), Byron Kelleher (Waikato), Piri Weepu (Wellington), Jimmy Cowan (Southland).
Forwards: Rodney So’oialo (Wellington), Mose Tuiali’i (Canterbury), Richie McCaw (Canterbury), Chris Masoe (Taranaki), Jerry Collins (Wellington), Sione Lauaki (Waikato), Angus Macdonald (Auckland), Jason Eaton (Taranaki), Ali Williams (Auckland), Chris Jack (Canterbury), James Ryan (Otago), Carl Hayman (Otago), Saimone Taumoepeau (Auckland), Neemia Tialata (Wellington), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour), John Afoa (Auckland), Anton Oliver (Otago), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Andrew Hore (Taranaki).