Henry’s All Blacks milestone ‘a sign of madness’

GRAHAM HENRY will take charge of his 100th All Blacks Test match when New Zealand conclude their World Cup Pool A campaign against Canada in Wellington tomorrow (3.30am Irish time).

New Zealand have won 84 and lost 15 games during Henry’s reign, and they remain clear favourites to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1987.

“It’s a privilege, really, to be involved with this team,” Henry said. “It is special, and I am proud to be part of that.”

“And to do that 100 times is also special – but probably a sign of madness as well.

“I think it is a reflection on what the management team and the leaders in the team have done over these last eight years to keep me in a job.”

Henry has recalled full-back Mils Muliaina for his 99th cap and switched Israel Dagg to the wing, although Henry denied it was a sentimental selection as Muliaina closes in on a century of Test appearances.

“No, not at all,” he added. “Mils is part of this group. He has been an outstanding player and he needs to play.

“Israel has been playing very well and he got player of the day last week (against France), but Mils has played 98 games for the All Blacks and has been an outstanding All Black for a long time.

“So it’s a major challenge for both of them and that is good for the team.”

Elsewhere, number Kieran Read returns from injury to make his first tournament start, with Zac Guildford on the left wing, as the All Blacks target a fourth successive bonus point victory ahead of a probable quarter-final against Argentina next weekend.

The 31-year-old Muliaina said the competition in the squad, particularly from Dagg who has been in imperious form and was man of the match in the 37-17 win over France last week, was good for the team as they looked ahead to the knockout stages.

“I think the form he has shown has been outstanding. He has really taken a step forward and is taking his opportunities,” Muliaina said.

“Guys like him and other guys in the team have set a benchmark and we get the opportunity to go out there and make sure we don’t drop the standards. It’s been a long time since I played test-match rugby so I am looking forward to going out and doing that.”

Muliaina said he was not concentrating on the possibility of earning his 100th cap and joining captain Richie McCaw as the only centurions for the All Blacks. McCaw achieved the milestone against France.

“I suppose in a way it is just a number,” Muliaina said. “But you realise how important it is to be in the All Blacks jersey when you haven’t played in a few weeks. Every time you go out there it’s special because you never know when it’s going to be your last and I’ve realised that in the last three weeks,” added Muliaina.

Scrum-half Jimmy Cowan will earn his 50th cap tomorrow while Zac Guildford makes his first appearance of the tournament.

New Zealand have already won Pool A, qualifying for the quarter-finals where they will play the runners-up of Pool B in Auckland on October 9.

NEW ZEALAND: M Muliaina, I Dagg, C Smith, S B Williams, Z Guildford, D Carter, J Cowan; T Woodcock, A. Hore, O. Franks, S Whitelock, A Williams, J Kaino, R McCaw, K Read

Replacements: K Mealamu, B Franks, B Thorn, A Boric, P Weepu, C Slade, I Toeava

CANADA: M Evans, C Trainor, DTH Van Der Merwe, R Smith, P Mackenzie, A Monro, E Fairhurst; H Buydens, P Riordan (capt), J Marshall, J Cudmore, J Sinclair, A Kleeberger, C O’Toole, A Carpenter.

Replacements: R Hamilton, S Franklin, A Tiedemann, T Hotson, N Dala, S White, N Hirayama.

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