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New Zealand knights World Cup-winning rugby coach

Updated: December 30, 2011, 19:37

WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Graham Henry has been awarded a knighthood in New Zealand's annual New Year Honors List as the rugby-mad nation continues to celebrate its first world title in 24 years.

The 65-year-old former school teacher, who resigned the All Blacks coaching job after the World Cup final in October, is now Sir Graham Henry and the latest of a handful of former players or coaches to receive one of New Zealand's highest honors.

Martin Snedden, the former test cricketer who headed the company that organized the World Cup, has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, one step down from a knighthood.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was also approached by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and offered a knighthood but declined, saying that at 30 and with at least two years still to run on his All Blacks contract, it would be too soon to be Sir Richie.

New Zealand was unbeaten at the Rugby World Cup in September and October, beating France 8-7 in a tense final to win the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time since 1987 when it hosted the inaugural tournament.

Henry became a national hero for leading the All Blacks to Cup victory, though he had been widely criticized four years earlier when the New Zealand team he coached was beaten by France in the quarterfinals of the previous World Cup. That was New Zealand's earliest World Cup exit and Henry was thought lucky to retain his job.

He follows former All Blacks players Colin Meads and Wilson Whineray and coach Fred Allen in receiving a knighthood. Henry coached the All Blacks from 2003-11, winning 88 of his 103 matches.

He was New Zealand's most successful coach after Allen, who won all 14 of his matches in charge.

Henry said he was surprised to be honored.

"I got a hell of a shock to be frank. It makes you feel uncomfortable, but also very humbled as well,'' he said. "When you are involved in a team sport it is a lot of people who produce those results, it is not one person. ... There are a lot of people involved so it makes you feel a wee bit uncomfortable. Rugby is a team game.''

Henry said he was not surprised that McCaw declined the honor.

"He is a young fella and he has a few years ahead of him playing rugby,'' he said. "He will probably feel uncomfortable about that (a knighthood), particularly when he is captaining the side and is still playing rugby.

"But I am sure his time will come.''

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