Graham Henry claims the All Blacks’ continued dominance of international rugby would be “boring” and believes his former team will face stern competition in trying to be the first country to claim a hat-trick of World Cup crowns in two years’ time.
New Zealand already broke new ground two years ago when they became the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Trophy by defeating old foes Australia 34-17 at Twickenham.
Head coach Steve Hansen kept a vice-like Kiwi grip on a trophy predecessor Henry had lifted four years earlier, 2011’s triumph seeing him become the first coach since 1987 to lead the men from the land of the long white cloud to a triumph a long time in the making – 24 years to be precise.
Since their second-ever World Cup victory six years ago, the All Blacks have been all-conquering on the international scene. They have lost just five Tests out of their previous 78 – dating back to that 8-7 win against France in Auckland.
There have been 70 victories, including a record-breaking 18 consecutive wins between August 2015 and November 2016. Despite this imperious form, however, Henry doesn’t feel the All Blacks are unstoppable.
“The World Cup is two years away and I was pleased to see Australia and South Africa improve a little in this Rugby Championship series because I think rugby needs competition,” said Henry, speaking to media at the Emirates Airline Rugby Long Lunch in Dubai on Thursday.
“It was pleasing because Australia and South Africa have fallen away pretty poorly in recent times. Against those two teams in the last two games against the All Blacks, they’ve been great contests with superb rugby. That’s really pleasing.
“It’s obvious the culture of the South Africa and Australian teams are becoming stronger and I think that’s good for rugby.
“There’s no point having one team much better than everybody else because that doesn’t create interest. When you’re not coaching you want a competition and when you’re coaching, you don’t.
“So going into the next World Cup, for sure I think teams can stop them. England are on a bit of a roll and have lost just one game since Eddie (Jones, head coach) took charge.
“The All Blacks will be favourites I would imagine in 2019, along with England, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, the usual enemies will all be out there.”
The All Blacks once again strolled to the Rugby Championship this year, winning all six games on their way to a 15th title in 22 years of the competition.
The triumph included crushing 54-34 and 57-0 victories against Australia and South Africa respectively. But the fact the Springboks rallied back from that demoralising thrashing in Albany to lose by just a point three weeks later in Cape Town, points to the possibility that Kiwi dominance could be on the wane.
“Possibly. Nobody has the right to be the best in the world forever,” said 71-year-old Henry.
“Australia were the best team around the turn of the century and then England were world champions in 2003. New Zealand didn’t win a World Cup for 24 years so there are no guarantees teams are going to continue to be successful.
Former British & Irish Lions and Wales coach Henry is of the opinion that New Zealand’s continued grip on the game is due to the fact that although it has changed immensely since he left the New Zealand post in the wake of that 2011 triumph, the All Blacks have adapted.
“I think what’s happening is the game is changing,” he added.
“I haven’t coached in six years. And the game’s changed immensely in that six years. What the All Blacks have done is been initiators in that change, their inventive.
“They didn’t score a try from their own ball initially against South Africa. Two turnovers and an intercept, whereas South Africa had to build their tries. Their ability to take advantage of opportunities is probably their x factor. And once they see the opportunity, they execute it.
“That’s probably the step other sides haven’t made yet. South Africa may have played the better game, but got beat by a point. So I don’t think the gap is too big. Which is great, it’s what rugby needs. It doesn’t need one team that’s unbeatable because that’s boring.”