Henry keeps his cards close

Graham Henry remains non-committal on whether he will persist with his bemoaned rotation policy.

Henry has been heavily criticised in New Zealand for his refusal to settle on a set run-on side at the World Cup. He fielded his strongest combination (with the exception of Kieran Read) at Eden Park tonight and they excelled.

Henry, however, intimated that there would be alterations for a range of reasons for their final pool match against Canada.

‘There are some guys who I don’t know will be available because of injuries, others who I could need in a final that need to play, and also guys in this squad who haven’t had enough game time. We’ll just have to wait a see what happens.’

Henry said Richard Kahui was doubtful for the next match as a result of a thigh injury. Israel Dagg (thigh), Adam Thomsom (ankle) and Cory Jane (concussion) were less serious and would be assessed on Sunday.

Dagg’s prognosis will be of particular interest to the selectors. The fullback was outstanding and further reinforced the widely held belief that he should be the incumbent ahead of veteran Mils Muliaina. Henry praised Dagg, but refused to be drawn on the issue of his continued selection.

‘He played very well. He was dynamic and scored a great try,’ Henry said. ‘He is the form fullback but we’ve always said we’ll pick a side to suit the opposition we play. At the moment he is playing really well but we’ll wait and see what happens next week.’

Assessing the performance Henry said: ‘I’m pleased with how we responded under pressure against this standard of opposition and in a game of this intensity. The nature of the match showed some good things about our play, like our scrums and our creation from breakdown situations. But it also highlighted some deficiencies, like our struggle to set our defensive line [when France got a quick recycle]. I’m just pleased to have played against quality opposition so that we can more accurately measure where we are.’

France coach Marc Lièvremont said his team started brightly, but lost the game in a 10-minute period in the first half where the All Blacks scored three tries.

‘Individuals were guilty of basic defensive mistakes that cost us,’ he said. ‘The team played well in the early parts of the match, but it is very difficult to come back from three tries against the All Blacks.

‘They attacked us close to the ruck and in the No 10 channel. We knew that they targeted us there with inside passes, so it wasn’t a surprise. But again, we didn’t defend well at those times and that gave them the momentum.’

Lièvremont refused to look ahead at the quarter-final, pointing out they hadn’t qualified yet. He was subsequently asked whether France could win the title and responded angrily to a French journalist: ‘Your rudeness is pissing me off. I just said we have to beat Canada to qualify.’

By Ryan Vrede, at Eden Park, Auckland.