Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 February 2018

Henry calls on players to 'learn from the past' as Dagg says New Zealand can win ugly

Chris Hewett

back in 2003, the Australians took one sneering look at England's narrowly focused style of "pressure" rugby during the knockout stage of the World Cup and asked the pre-tournament favourites: "Is that all you've got?"

However little Clive Woodward's English side brought to that global party, it turned out to be enough. Only just, but enough.

Eight years on, the same question is being asked by the Antipodeans, albeit in a different, slightly more respectful way.

"We will definitely run the ball," promised Israel Dagg, the spellbinding attacking full-back from New Zealand, as the hosts turned their attention to the opening match of the competition, against Tonga at Auckland's reconstructed Eden Park stadium in six days' time.

"But if we need to drop goals and kick penalties to win, I don't really care. It's how the English do it. They grind teams down."

There will be mind games a-plenty over the coming weeks, but by making an early point about the gulf in dynamism between All Black rugby and the red-rose version, the hosts seem to be having a conversation with themselves as well as with everyone else.

Jimmy Cowan, their scrum-half, remarked that while there were no plans to rein in the instinctive side of the New Zealand game, he would be more than happy to "win ugly" if it meant winning the competition. Even Graham Henry, the head coach, appeared to be preparing the ground for a functional approach towards claiming a first world title in almost a quarter of a century.

"I hope we've learnt from the past," Henry said yesterday as the Webb Ellis Trophy arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

"We haven't been good at sudden-death football so we'll need a special mentality there. We'll set some goals for the round-robin part of the tournament, try to qualify well and then look separately at the knockout phase."

With competing teams setting up camp the length and breadth of the country, England reported that Mark Cueto, the most experienced of the wide men in the party, had recovered from the back problems that forced him into an early departure from last weekend's warm-up match at the Aviva Stadium.

Scotland, meanwhile, were still in Australia, holding joint training sessions with the Canadian squad.

"It's nice to see different people," said Andy Robinson, the former England coach who has been heading up the Scottish operation for the past couple of years. "We've had live scrums and live line-outs, which went well for both of us.

It's always good to try things against unfamiliar opposition who don't know your moves. It helps us put some structure on what we're doing." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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