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Henry admits past heartache drove Blacks to final

Graham Henry is convinced that embracing and learning from 20 years of choking at Rugby World Cups has led the All Blacks to this weekend's final.

New Zealand conceived, hosted and won the first World Cup in 1987, but defeats in every tournament since then, despite dominating the world game in the intervening years, has compounded the pressure on the Kiwis and made their failures successively harder to bear.

Henry and his staff were the first All Blacks coaches to keep their jobs after a World Cup defeat, surprisingly after the 2007 quarter-finals which marked New Zealand's earliest ever exit. But Henry said today that heeding the lessons of their mistakes has been a vital part of their achievement in reaching this Sunday's final for the first time in 16 years.

"This year we have dissected Rugby World Cup and its history and looked at why the All Blacks haven't won for 24 years," Henry said. "We've had a very good look at 2007 in particular, and we're using that hopefully to give us more information and more knowledge on how to win this tournament."

One of the changes the coaches have had to instill in the players' minds was an attitude for tournament rugby, coming to terms in the play-offs with knowing there was no second chance. Henry said the All Blacks have had to realise that World Cup matches are different from any other Tests.

"If you don't win the final three games, if you get that far, you don't survive, and having a mentality to handle that is important," Henry said.

"Most teams play at a higher level in the World Cup than they do in normal Test matches. It's our culture and upbringing in this team to win every Test match, and we take that particularly seriously.

"The legacy this team leaves when its finished is critically important. You're always trying to add to the legacy of the All Blacks, be it Grand Slams tours, Tri-Nations or Bledisloe Cups, so that's why each Test match is so important.

"Other teams put a huge emphasis on the Rugby World Cup, so we've had to change our thinking about that and how we handle that."


Henry said France seem to have perfected the attitude required for the game's premier tournament.

France have pulled off some of the tournament's biggest shocks, including wins over New Zealand in 1999 and 2007.

Henry noted that in his eight-year tenure, the All Blacks have beaten the French in every Test in France, and lost only once at home, in Dunedin in 2009. Otherwise, they have had the wood on the French apart from that one home loss, and the 2007 quarter-final defeat in Cardiff, which Henry described as "the most bizarre game I've ever been involved in".

The All Blacks have already beaten France in the pool stage by 37-17, but Henry said the final will be a harder match.

"Although France didn't play particularly well in their semi-final, we know they've got the ability to play outstanding rugby," he said. "On Sunday, they will play well and we've got to make sure we do the business."

Centre Ma'a Nonu had a sting in his shoulder in the semi-final, Cory Jane and Andy Ellis took knocks to their noses, and scrum-half Piri Weepu was dealing with a virus, but all will he fine for the final, Henry confirmed.