Talking Points

(Rugby News Service) Thursday 15 September 2011
Talking Points
New Zealand coach Graham Henry regularly rings the changes in his starting line-up

AUCKLAND, 15 Sept. - A spotlight on the hot topics at Rugby World Cup 2011.

When it comes to Graham Henry's team selections it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The New Zealand coach has been rotating the personnel in his match 22 in recent weeks - and it's not something he has been reluctant to try before.

His team to play against Japan on Friday has seven changes to the XV that started against Tonga in the opening game of Rugby World Cup 2011. Before injury forced his hand on Thursday, his team actually contained eight changes.

And the side that ran on against Tonga had nine changes from the team that lost the last match of the Tri Nations to Australia on August 27.

The bold tactics of a man keen to exploit the depth of his squad? Or the tinkering of a coach uncertain of his best line-up?

Teamsheet tinkering

Whatever the verdict, Henry seems to have a habit of regularly applying an eraser to his teamsheet at Rugby World Cups.

At RWC 2007, he made at least 10 changes for every match that New Zealand played. In their third pool match against Scotland there were only three players remaining from the team that had started the previous game against Portugal. For two other matches he made 11 changes apiece.

And the All Blacks side that began the ill-fated quarter-final against France included only five players from the team that beat Romania 85-8 in the final pool encounter. 

Whether such volatility contributed to the All Blacks' early exit in France is a matter for debate, but it is worth looking at the selection policy of eventual champions South Africa.

Springbok coach Jake White seems to have settled on his best line-up early and fielded a near-full strength side for all but one of the seven matches.

March to the final

After opening with a 59-7 win against Samoa at RWC 2007, White made just three changes for the crucial pool encounter with England. After a 36-0 victory there, he switched 11 players for the next game against Tonga but was back to a more settled line-up for the last pool match against USA.

The Boks beat the Eagles 64-15 and White needed to make only four changes for the quarter-final with Fiji as South Africa began their inexorable march through the knockouts to their second RWC trophy.

The team that lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in October 2007 had only one injury-enforced change to the side that started the tournament six weeks earlier.

Twelve of White's starting XV in the final had started five of the six matches leading up to it, two had started four matches and CJ van der Linde, who had a knee injury during the tournament, started in three.

So much for rotation.

RNS sw/rg