Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Henry scoffs at Northern Hemisphere rugby

AFP , AUCKLAND

All Blacks coach Graham Henry rucked over Northern Hemisphere rugby yesterday, saying it was inferior to the caliber of play in the Tri-Nations.

In an opening barb for the psychological upper hand a year out from the World Cup, Henry said the Tri-Nations grouping of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand were gathering steam in a superior competition.

The best he could offer the Northern Hemisphere's Six Nations was that it was "very special" in terms of atmosphere.

"I've been involved in both and the [Six Nations] rugby standards are not as high," the former Wales coach said on the eve of the Tri-Nations Test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

If the All Blacks win here today, they will have retained their Tri-Nations title before playing their last two matches away in South Africa.

Although the level of play in this year's championship has been widely criticized, with the second Test between Australia and South Africa rated woeful by many commentators, Henry was firm in his condemnation of the Six Nations.

"There's a lot of migration of huge numbers of people every weekend from Wales to Scotland, or England to Ireland or whatever it may be, and I think that gives it a special flavor," he said.

"It's a special tournament but the rugby standards are not as high," Henry said.

The Tri-Nations countries were among the top in the world, a fact reflected in the level of competition, Henry added.

"When you're playing three games against each of those top teams it becomes a major physically and a major mentally, so in a rugby sense it's a harder competition," he said.

World rugby rankings have the All Blacks on top, followed by Six Nations champions France, then Australia and South Africa followed by Ireland, England and Scotland. Wales are ninth and Italy 12th.

Although the unbeaten All Blacks have beaten Australia twice and South Africa once so far in this year's Tri-Nations series, captain Richie McCaw said there was little separating the three teams.

"It's who turns up ready to play that the difference is. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is who's right on their game and to turn up thinking it's just going to happen -- that's when you come unstuck," he said.

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