Special man Graham Henry deserves so much credit: Keven Mealamu
Published 22/10/2011 | 00:00
Keven Mealamu has paid a glowing tribute to New Zealand coach Graham Henry as the All Blacks supremo prepares for his final game at the helm - tomorrow's World Cup final against France.
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."
Henry, meanwhile, admits it would be "marvellous" to see his New Zealand team crowned world champions.
"I've been with a lot of these guys for a long time, and they've never been world champions," Henry said.
"It would be just marvellous to have that title because they've had every other title that is going in rugby apart from this one.
"So for (captain) Richie McCaw and the boys I think that would be fabulous. I think they are good enough."
Henry has predictably retained the side that crushed Australia five days ago.
The only switch is on the bench, where flanker Adam Thomson has recovered from an ankle strain to take over from Victor Vito.