New Zealand Rugby
Henry ponders Muliaina switch
September 6, 2009
Could Mils Muliaina line-up at centre in Hamilton next Saturday? © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry has expressed his frustration at the selection headache he faces ahead of his side's Tri-Nations showdown with South Africa in Hamilton next weekend.
With Luke McAlister and Conrad Smith injured during last month's victory against Australia and Richard Kahui (shoulder) and Tamati Ellison (calf) also ruled out, Henry is under pressure to fill the void at centre with fullback Mils Muliaina the latest to be linked with a positional switch.
The All Blacks boss must decide whether shifting fly-half Daniel Carter to inside centre and Ma'a Nonu out to No.13 or bringing Muliaina up from fullback and keeping Nonu at No.12 is the best option.
"Ultimately that means we're going to have to play some guys out of position, which is a frustration," said Henry. "You can play Mils at centre and you can play Daniel at inside and outside five-eighths (10 and 12), mixing them up a bit.
"That's where we're at really. There's nothing we can do about that. We've just got to take it on the chin and move on and do the best with what we've got. I'm sure the guys will come up to it."
Both players have been sounded out about making a potential switch.
"They both always put the team first," he told the Sunday Star-Times. "They're brilliant young guys and they'll do what's best for the team."
Australia ended South Africa's unbeaten run in last night's 21-6 Test in Brisbane, meaning New Zealand have destiny in their own hands on home soil over the final two weeks.
Victory is needed over the Springboks in Hamilton next week followed by the same outcome against Australia in Wellington a week later. The All Blacks must also snare a bonus point for scoring four tries in at least one of those games to have any chance of winning the title. That would require a major leap from the one try they have managed in each of their four Tri-Nations tests so far.
Two winning bonus points would hand them the title - as long as they can deny the Springboks a bonus point for finishing within seven points at Hamilton. In that scenario, or if the All Blacks manage just one bonus, then it will come down to points differential.
The Springboks have a points differential of plus-25, compared to New Zealand's minus-14. To close the gap, the All Blacks would need a healthy win at Hamilton.
Henry admits the All Blacks have struggled in the series this year - with two losses to South Africa tempered by two wins over Robbie Deans' Wallabies - and he wants to see the team build on their second-half efforts from Sydney, which saw them snatch a dramatic 19-18 win thanks to a last-gasp penalty from Carter, who was making his return to international rugby following his Achilles injury.
"We've just got to go in and try to improve what we've been doing. We haven't got a magic wand. The guys are keen to play well. They enjoyed the game in Sydney, and particularly the result.
"We probably played our best rugby of the Tri-Nations in the second 40 in Sydney. It's important we don't get too far ahead of ourselves and just try to build on what we did in that second half."
The All Blacks squad gathered in Hamilton today and will train for the first time at Waikato Stadium tomorrow. Their team is named on Tuesday.