New Zealand v France, Rugby World Cup, October 23, 2011
Mealamu praises outgoing Henry
October 21, 2011
Mealamu will equal 92-cap Sean Fitzpatrick's record on Saturday © Getty Images
All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu has paid tribute to Graham Henry ahead of the World Cup final in what looks likely to be the coach's final game in charge of New Zealand.
Henry will step down following the biggest match in New Zealand rugby history, guaranteed legendary status should the All Blacks end a 24-year wait for global domination. And All Blacks star Mealamu, who will equal Sean Fitzpatrick's record of 92 Test appearances as New Zealand's most-capped hooker, has no doubt about former Wales coach Henry's qualities.
"He has been a very special man on and off the field," Mealamu said. "I've learnt a lot off him as a player, and he is quite a genuine man off the field as well.
"He really cares about the boys, so I know the boys will be wanting to put on a good performance for him this weekend."
New Zealand are overwhelming favourites to be crowned world champions, but Mealamu maintains France will be tough nuts to crack despite an inconsistent World Cup campaign scarred by defeats against the All Blacks and Tonga.
"I don't think they are under-rated," Mealamu insisted. "We haven't under-rated them. We know the challenge we have ahead of us. I know a lot of people have written them off, but we know how good they are. You just have to look at history to see how good they are.
"We will prepare well and make sure we are ready for the French because we know from history that we've failed against them."
Mealamu's theme is readily taken up by centre Ma'a Nonu, who said: "France have been slammed and been under-rated, and that is when the French play their best rugby - when their backs are against the wall.
"This is the biggest occasion every four years for rugby, and we've always fallen short in either the semis or quarter-finals. We've always tried to find ways to answer why we've fallen over, you know, where we play well one year and then when it comes to the World Cup we don't really make it to the end.
"I don't know, people always say we peak too early, and there have always been reasons why we haven't won during those years. I think this is probably our best chance and we want to take it.
"For us as players we are lucky that we are here, and we want to take it on. There's a lot of pressure, and there has been all year. That is why we play rugby, because we want to do it, and that was our dream. As kids we wanted to be All Blacks."
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