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Henry Expecting ‘A Huge Match’

Henry Expecting ‘A Huge Match’

With New Zealand rebuilding after a disappointing World Cup campaign, head coach Graham Henry knows his squad are facing a challenging few weeks as they entertain both Ireland and England.

Saturday’s clash with Ireland affords the All Blacks a chance to put their World Cup nightmare behind them and get a glimpse into the future with debutant winger Anthony Tuitavake and highly-rated number 8 Jerome Kaino hoping to catch the eye.

Ireland are in a transitional phase themselves with new head coach Declan Kidney set to take charge in the autumn, while the squad are eager to impress after winning runs for the provinces in the Magners League and Heineken Cup.

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Noting Ireland’s newer players and Munster’s recent European success, Henry said: “Ireland are a very experienced rugby team and have been around for a long time.

“There are a lot of caps and some new guys who’ve come in who look like they can play. I think it’s going to be a huge match on Saturday.

“The Irish always play with a huge amount of passion, they’ll have a lot of confidence coming into the Test match.

“They know that we are rebuilding and Munster have come off a Heineken Cup win and that will add to the confidence of the group.”

Ireland are touring without the injured Gordon D’Arcy and Andrew Trimble, and also lost both Alan Quinlan (thigh) and Luke Fitzgerald (ankle) in recent days, but Henry is relishing the challenge posed by a near full strength Irish side.

“We’re looking forward to this Test. We’ve got challenges. We see this as short turnaround. We’ve these guys for four training runs and a major Test against a very strong Irish side,” said the former Wales and British & Irish Lions coach.

Certainly amongst the New Zealand media, there has been a lot of interest in how the hosts’ back row unit will line out. Rodney So’oialo has shifted to number 6 to allow Blues youngster Kaino come in at the base of the scrum.

Forwards coach Steve Hansen said: “We are just looking at the different combinations as part of this series to try and establish who is best to go where and this is a Test we are looking to do that in.

“Both of them (So’oialo and Kaino) can play eight, both of them can play six so from time to time we might see that change during the course of the game.”

Hampered by the short preparation time and missing some big names from his World Cup squad, Henry agreed that the pressure is on his side to perform this weekend and answer their critics, who have increased in number since the World Cup quarter-final defeat to France.

“The expectation is huge and you wouldn’t want to change that expectation, that’s one of the strengths of this country.

“(But) if you don’t live up to that expectation for whatever reason, you’re going to have criticism,” he added.

“The only way that will change will be if this side plays particularly well and continues to play particularly well like they’ve done over the last four years, most of the time.”