Henry: Past World Cup failures paying off for NZ
Updated: October 17, 2011, 02:24
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Graham Henry is convinced that embracing and learning from 20 years of choking at Rugby World Cups has led New Zealand to this weekend's final.
New Zealand conceived, hosted and won the first Cup in 1987, but defeats in every tournament since then despite dominating the world game in the intervening years has compounded the pressure on the All Blacks and made their failures successively harder to bear.
Henry and his staff were the first All Blacks coaches to keep their jobs after a World Cup defeat, surprisingly after the 2007 quarterfinals which marked New Zealand's earliest ever exit. But Henry said on Monday that heeding the lessons of their mistakes and others has been a vital part of their achievement in reaching the final for the first time in 16 years, this Sunday against France at Eden Park
"This year we have dissected Rugby World Cup and its history and looked at why the All Blacks haven't won for 24 years and tried to find out reasons for that,'' Henry said. "We've had a very good look at 2007 in particular, and we're using that hopefully to give us more information and more knowledge on how to win this tournament.
"I think it's been helpful.''
One of the changes the coaches have had to instil in the players' minds was an attitude for tournament rugby, coming to terms in the playoffs with knowing there was no second chance. Henry said the All Blacks have had to realize that World Cup matches are different from any other tests.
"Strange as it may seem,'' he said. "If you don't win the final three games, if you get that far, you don't survive, and having a mentality to handle that is pretty important.
"Also I think most teams play at a higher level in the World Cup than they do in normal test matches. It's our culture and upbringing in this team to win every test match, and we take that particularly seriously. The legacy this team leaves when its finished is critically important. You're always trying to add to the legacy of the All Blacks, be it Grand Slams tours, Tri-Nations or Bledisloe Cups, so that's why each test match is so important.
"Other teams put a huge emphasis on the Rugby World Cup so we've had to change our thinking about that and how we handle that.''
Henry said France seem to have perfected the attitude required for World Cups.
France has pulled off some of the tournament's biggest shocks, including over New Zealand in 1999 and 2007. The French also weren't expected to beat England in this year's quarterfinals.
Henry noted that in his eight-year tenure, the All Blacks have beaten the French in every test in France, and lost only once at home, in Dunedin in 2009. Otherwise, they have had the wood on the French apart from that one home loss, and the 2007 quarterfinal defeat in Cardiff, which Henry described as "the most bizarre game I've ever been involved in.''
The All Blacks have already beaten France in the pool stage by a handy 37-17, but Henry said the final will be a harder, and better, match.
"Although France didn't play particularly well in their semifinal, we know they've got the ability to play outstanding rugby,'' he said. "On Sunday they will play well and we've got to make sure we do the business.
"The French team can be the best in the world on it's day.''
He said they will be carefully managing the team so it will be primed for Sunday.
"I think it's very important to come down - it was a huge game at the weekend and you can't stay up there. You've got to come down, get back to basics, start fresh with a clean sheet and build the week slowly. Just increasing our clarity, just increasing our attitude for Sunday. If we do it too early it leads to anxiety. We just have to use the six days we've got to do the job properly, rather than getting there too quickly and everybody's wanting to play about Thursday and Friday.
"This group hasn't been in a final, it's a new experience for these guys and they're looking forward to it.''
Following what he called a "heroic performance'' in the semifinal win over Australia, he said they will have a full squad available.
Center Ma'a Nonu had a sting in shoulder, fellow backs Cory Jane and Andy Ellis took knocks to their noses, and scrumhalf Piri Weepu was dealing with a virus, but all will he fine, Henry said.
France edged a 14-man Wales 9-8 in their semifinal on Saturday, and Henry, who coached Wales to the 1999 World Cup quarterfinals, was wistful for his former team.
"I thought they were good enough (to reach the final),'' he said. "I've been there before with Welsh rugby and sometimes they don't quite do the business. Unfortunately it didn't happen. Yeah (I'm) disappointed. It would have been a great final.''