Tuesday, 25 November 2008
While Graham Henry was delighted to accept a third International Rugby Board coach of the year gong last night, it was tempered by his captain Richie McCaw's absence from the supreme players' award nominees. Henry regained the award he previously won in 2005-06 during what was practically a benefit night for New Zealand rugby at the IRB's annual gala in central London.
But he shared the praise liberally, claiming: "I was just the guy to go up and get the trophy".
Henry, whose 2008 season has always been one of personal and professional redemption, credited assistants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen with helping rebuild the team after the devastation of last October's quarterfinal exit at the World Cup.
Kicking expert Mick Byrne, scrum guru Mike Cron and manager Darren Shand also received honourable mentions along with a core of senior players – where McCaw was obviously at the head of the queue.
The skipper also copped severe criticism for the manner of the All Blacks 18-20 loss to France in Cardiff 13 months ago, but Henry was lavish in his praise of the world's premier openside flanker as the team prepare for the final test of the season against England at Twickenham on Saturday (3.30am Sunday NZT).
"Richie's captaincy has always been very good and it's getting better and better as he gets more experienced, gets a bit older," Henry said."He's captained the side outstandingly this year and I think he captained very well over the last two years."
Henry was disappointed McCaw's outstanding contribution was not reflected in his joining Daniel Carter on the IRB's shortlist for player of the year. McCaw took the coveted award in 2006; Carter the previous year.
"I think Richie's the best player in the world," Henry said."I guess these things happen from time to time. I'm sure he just shrugs his shoulders and gets on with it."
Ultimately, Wales wing and his country's record try-scorer Shane Williams was chosen by a panel of former test stars convened by two-time World Cup winner John Eales. His six tries in Wales' triumphant Six Nations campaign tipping the balance over Carter, Wales' captain Ryan Jones, Scotland halfback Mike Blair and Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse. Williams' success was well received by Henry, who gave the 31-year-old his first cap when head coach of Wales in 2000.
"Shane's a finisher – he's scored some magnificent tries over the last year," Henry said."He's a quality athlete with some great skills, he's a pretty special player but not as influential as a Richie or a Daniel because he's not in those positions – seven and 10 are very influential on how the team plays."
The All Blacks' success in retaining the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup gives credence to Henry's view. New Zealand were at their best while Carter and McCaw were on the pitch together. When losses were suffered against South Africa in Dunedin and the Wallabies in Sydney, an injured McCaw was a notable absentee. — NZPA
Where do you rate Richie McCaw on the world scene? Was he ripped off by the IRB? Post your comments below.