We lacked mental strength - Henry


NZPA     11 Jul 2007     Photosport

After several days of introspection, New Zealand coach concluded his team "just weren't right there" in the head and paid the price with their 15-20 loss.

He bemoaned his team's patchy form in both the Philips Tri Nations Tests so far, including the opening win over South Africa, and was seeking a major improvement in the return clash with the Springboks at Jade Stadium on Saturday.

A suggestion that his team's malaise was due to a lack of rugby -- courtesy of the reconditioning programme -- was dismissed by Henry.

Instead, he had sensed some of his players weren't mentally equipped to deal with hungrier opponents at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

"I think we were off the pace. I don't think we've played insufficient football to be off the pace, we just weren't right there," Henry said.

"If you've got a side sitting in Melbourne for two weeks waiting for you and you've been to South Africa and coming back to play, you can't afford to be 85-90 (percent). You've got to be 100, and we weren't.

"No excuses, we just have to take it on the chin and move on."

In an even more frank admission, Henry wondered if some of his players' heads "were in September-October", when the World Cup will be hosted by France.

"Let's just buckle down and make sure we do our preparation properly... it only takes three or four (players) not to and you're off the pace by 10 percent."

Wallabies players and media have rejoiced in the win, saying it proves the All Blacks can be undone in close, important games. It is why, they say, New Zealand have such a poor record at World Cups.

Henry said execution let them down badly in Melbourne, citing his team's defence and unwillingness "to use the ball particularly well" as disappointing. He didn't want to go into details.

"I think we've got a lot of areas we need to spruce up on so it was a timely reminder," he said.

"You never like losing but I think every now and then you need to analyse everything you're doing and hopefully we have done that reasonably well and we can expect a better performance this week and the following week."

Henry has made seven personnel changes and a positional switch this week to face the understrength Springboks but insisted it wasn't a reaction to the Melbourne defeat.

Most of the changes were to give game time to players who needed it such as halfback Piri Weepu and hooker Keven Mealamu, whose only starts were in the opening Test of the year against France, and winger Doug Howlett, who has returned from paternity leave after his first child, Charles, was born.

Reuben Thorne is blindside flank ahead of Jerry Collins while Sitiveni Sivivatu replaces cousin Joe Rokocoko on the left wing.

Keith Robinson will start at lock in his first test of the year after injuring his calf minutes before taking the field in the second test against France a month ago.

Robinson hasn't played since then, with Henry dissuading him from turning out for his club last weekend.

"He's the sort of player who can come on and play to a pretty high standard without a buildup of other games. He's done it numerous times in the past and we think he can do it again," Henry said.

Isaia Toeava returns from a shoulder injury at centre, leaving Henry with a difficult task at second five-eighth, where he preferred Luke McAlister over Aaron Mauger.

Mauger may well have played his last Test in home town Christchurch as he takes up an English club contract with Leicester later this year.

"It's a very competitive position and both are obviously quality players," Henry said.

"Aaron's played both Philips Tri Nations Tests so Luke gets an opportunity there."