Friday, September 16, 2011

Henry: Don't panic New Zealand

Coach Graham Henry jokes his middle name is 'worried' but says All Blacks fans should not be in a similar state over a mounting list of injuries to his star players.

A day after New Zealand's lynchpin, fly-half Daniel Carter, was scratched from the starting line-up to face Japan in Hamilton on Friday night, the same fate befell captain Richie McCaw and fullback Mils Muliaina.

McCaw, due to become the first All Black to make 100 Test appearances, suffered a minor calf strain in training while 98-Test veteran Muliaina has a tight right hamstring.

Adding to New Zealand's medical list was Israel Dagg, the in-form No.15 who appears to have the inside running for the fullback role but is also unavailable due to an abdominal strain.

The news sent a shockwave through an already nervous nation, who know they can ill-afford to have Carter and McCaw at less than 100 percent of their powers if the Webb Ellis Trophy is to be regained after a 24-year absence.

But the ever-calm Henry - at least on the exterior - said the injuries were only 'minor' and would not have long-term implications.

Asked if he was worried about the late withdrawals, he said: "I'm always a worried man - it's my second name."

"They're minor injuries. We don't want to make it worse. It would not matter who is playing next week."

"We'd be taking a risk if we played them and we can't afford to do that."

"Mils trained most of (Thursday's) session. He's running at 85 percent, not 100 percent. That's not good enough."

McCaw's absence thrust the captaincy upon hooker Keven Mealamu, who said putting the finishing touches on their opportunities was the main area of improvement from their opening 41-10 win over Tonga.

Another with increased responsibility is Isaia Toeava, who came from two back in the pack to wear the No.15 jersey - a role he is well accustomed to at Super Rugby level.

"I've played fullback for the Blues this season and enjoyed it. I'm pretty excited for this opportunity," he said.

"Mils and Issy have played well. They're big shoes to fill."

Japan coach John Kirwan, a star of New Zealand's triumphant 1987 World Cup campaign, was not expecting an easier ride due to the All Black absentees.

"If you've ever been to Disneyland and seen the big rollercoaster it's a bit like that- a little bit exciting and a little bit scary at the same time," he said."That's how we feel about playing the All Blacks."

"I'm disappointed for them, obviously. They've picked up niggles but it doesn't change anything for us."

"I think things like that are a coach's worst nightmare."

"This particular team has been together long enough that it won't disrupt them."

"It would've been a real honour for (McCaw) to play his 100th against us."

No-one is expecting any semblance of a repeat of the 145-17 bloodbath between the two teams at the 1995 World Cup, especially given Japan's effort in almost tipping up France in their opening clash.

"I think that Japan has improved enough for everyone to give us respect," Kirwan said.

"Winning the PNC (Pacific National Championships) and the way we played last week I think the All Blacks will give us the respect we deserve."

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