16 Feb 2011

World Cup looms large over NZ Super Rugby franchises

8:07 am on 16 February 2011

The words World Cup are stamped on page one of every New Zealand Super Rugby handbook with the series overshadowed by All Blacks' coach Graham Henry charged with producing a world champion side.

Player availability and highly-combative clashes when potential All Blacks are pitted against each other under the local derby flavour of the new Super format will inevitably dictate the fortunes of the New Zealand franchises.

The Canterbury Crusaders again start the Super series as the team with the best credentials, while the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Blues have the players to compete but a history that says they won't.

But overriding their interests will be those of Henry and his World Cup masterplan as New Zealand seek to win rugby's showpiece trophy for the first time since they won the inaugural tournament 24 years ago.

Four years ago, Henry controversially pulled his leading All Blacks out of the first half of the then Super 14 series and though he does not intend being as extreme this time he does have a huge say on when his stars will appear.

It is expected the All Blacks will at least be spelled around bye weekends to give them a minimum of two two-week breaks during the competition.

Henry has also hinted that his blueprint for the World Cup will have a bearing on the style of rugby produced by the Super 15 sides, saying he will work with the coaches to give them constant feedback on the way they're playing and how he thinks they can improve their game.