New Zealand:New Zealand rugby shrugged off the disappointment of its worst-ever World Cup campaign and has reappointed Graham Henry as All Blacks coach for the next two years.
Henry retained the job he has held since 2004, during which time New Zealand won 42 of 46 test matches, ahead of a strong challenge from Canterbury Crusaders Super 14 coach Robbie Deans.
The New Zealand Rugby Union on Thursday interviewed four candidates for the All Blacks' role: Henry, Deans and Junior All Blacks co-coaches Colin Cooper and Ian Foster. Deans and Henry were seen as the only likely appointees. The decision was announced on Friday.
Deans mounted a strong challenge for the position, drawing on his record of having won six Super 12 or 14 titles with the Crusaders, but odds of reappointment swung in Henry's favour when the New Zealand union decided to discount the importance of the World Cup failure.
New Zealand was bundled out of the Cup by hosts France in the quarterfinals, its worst performance in six world tournaments since 1987, when it won its only world title.
The New Zealand union decided after its annual review of Henry's performance, and those of co-coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, not to immediately reappoint him but to throw the position open to other contenders.
That decision opened the way for Deans to challenge Henry and he remained the favourite for the role after all candidates had made 90-minute submissions to the union's board in Wellington.
Deans had set aside lucrative offers to coach Australia in order to pursue what he described as a "passion" to coach the All Blacks. It now seems likely Deans will renew negotiations with the Australian Rugby Union, which has offered him substantial financial incentives to sever his New Zealand ties.
The New Zealand union's acting chairman, Mike Eagle, said the board which interviewed all coaching candidates was impressed with their submissions.
"At the end of the process, the board concluded that Graham Henry was the best candidate for the position," Eagle said.
"We are all disappointed not to have won the Rugby World Cup. In that regard, the NZRU board accepts it was jointly responsible and accountable for the result."
In making that statement, Eagle touched on the key issue behind Henry's reappointment.
The All Blacks' World Cup failure has been blamed squarely on the reconditioning program and the rotational selection systems which Henry made the cornerstones of his World Cup buildup.
The result of those programs, which took 22 All Blacks out of the 2007 Super 14 and led to constantly changing team selections, was that most players arrived at the World Cup having played only a handful of games.
The All Blacks' lack of match play was exposed in their 20-18 loss to France at Cardiff.
The New Zealand union rubber-stamped all of Henry's Cup plans, including the contentious conditioning program, and in doing so made itself complicit in the World Cup defeat. The board could not then sack Henry, without its members accepting an equal degree of accountability.
"We are committed to learning the key lessons (of the World Cup failure) which will be explored in the independent review announced earlier this week," Eagle said.
Graham's record both on and off the field is among the best in All Blacks rugby history.
"As a result we believe that in the best interests of New Zealand rugby, Graham and his team were the right choice."
Henry welcomed the board's decision. "I'm very grateful for the chance to continue," he said.
"We have been a very strong and successful team over the past two years but we were hugely disappointed we didn't bring the World Cup back for New Zealanders."
Hansen and Smith held their positions as Henry's co-coaches.