|Henry has the chance to lead the All Blacks to their first World Cup win in 24 years at Eden Park [GALLO/GETTY]|
Graham Henry, the head coach of the All Blacks, walks into the room and sits down in front of 27 TV cameras and dozens of journalists at the New Zealand team hotel in Auckland.
It is two days before his team will play France in the Rugby World Cup final, in front of a home crowd of 60,000 at Eden Park, and a worldwide television audience of an estimated half a billion.
Expectation is reaching fever pitch in New Zealand, where they haven’t seen the All Blacks lift the Webb Ellis Cup since 1987.
Henry opens proceedings. “No questions? Thank you for coming.”
Whatever happens on Sunday, this is almost certainly Henry’s last game in charge.
He bucked the trend in 2007, when he and his staff held onto their jobs after the crushing disappointment of a quarter-final exit to France.
Now a team that has been consistently the best in the world without having the top silverware to show for it has its greatest chance, with a collection of battle-hardened players who may just be the finest to have worn the shirt.
“A lot of us have been together for eight years, and then you throw in Richie (McCaw) and Daniel (Carter) and Mils (Muliaina),” Henry said.
|Henry said that flanker Richie McCaw had gone ‘from strength to strength’ as captain [GALLO/GETTY]|
“I know those last two aren’t playing right now. But the players have basically taken over the team. They’ve taken a huge responsibility. So I’ve got nothing to do.”
Henry has coached some fine players in a career with Auckland, the Blues, Wales, the British and Irish Lions and now New Zealand.
Mentioned among those on Friday were such legends as Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke, but captain McCaw could cement his place as the best yet.
McCaw is already without parallel as an openside flanker, and earned his 100th Test cap in the 37-17 Pool A victory over the French last month.
“He’s got that built-in respect but he’s also earned respect by the way he plays and leads the team,” said Henry.
“He’s the most experienced All Blacks captain of all time and goes from strength to strength.”
Henry named the same starting XV that beat Australia 20-6 in their semi-final last week, with Israel Dagg at full-back (Muliaina’s All Black career was ended by a shoulder injury in the quarter-finals) and Aaron Cruden continuing at fly half, with first choice Carter also out of the tournament.
He said he wouldn’t need to give his players any last-minute prep before they step onto the pitch.
“I don’t talk. Seriously. Sunday night, before they run out onto the field, is their time,” Henry said.
“They’ve to get their own minds settled and on the job. People talking to them is a big waste of time. In fact, it’s a distraction.”
Henry, 65, has been open about the pain that defeat in 2007 caused him, and said the culmination of this World Cup would mean “internal peace” for him and his family.
“Mum is 95 years old, and she’ll be delighted when it’s finished,” he said.
“She thinks I’m under pressure, but she doesn’t understand that I don’t do much.”
Henry can eventually escape the spotlight after Sunday, but that will be made much easier for him and his country if France are denied their first trophy in their third final.
“They’ve got a tremendous loose trio and backs who can bite you,” he said of the French challenge.
“This French team, we’re not sure who is going to turn up, so we’ve got to prepare for them being the best team in the world.
“We’ve been the leading team in the world during my time but not the world champions, and it will just be marvelous to have that tile because they’ve got every other one, Richie McCaw and the boys.
“We don’t deserve the title until we’ve done the job, but I think they are good enough.”