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All Blacks use 2008 to rebound from World cup nightmare


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New Zealand rebounded from their shock World Cup quarter-final exit to dominate the international rugby scene in 2008, cementing their place as the world’s number one team.

The All Blacks saw more than 10 players depart for foreign shores after the World Cup, but having been given a vote of confidence by NZRU officials, coach Graham Henry managed what could have been a traumatic transition to perfection.

The New Zealanders won the Tri-Nations and then completed a cleansweep of the four Home Nations on their November tour that also saw them beat Australia for the Bledisloe Cup in Hong Kong.

World champions South Africa finished bottom of the Tri-Nations with just two wins from six games.

Australia were second behind New Zealand but suffered the ignomy of losing to Wales in the final match of their November tour, the sole SANZAR team to suffer a defeat at the hands of a northern hemisphere team.

Henry blooded a host of young players sure to be around for the 2011 World Cup that New Zealand will host. They proved their worth as the All Blacks cemented their grip on the title as the world’s number one ranking team.

Amazingly, inspirational captain Richie McCaw did not even make the shortlist for IRB world player of the year, Welsh winger Shane Williams beating off competition from Kiwi playmaker Dan Carter, among others, for the title.

After five years of duty in the black shirt and with Kiwi rugby bosses desperate to keep Carter in the fold, the outside-half was exceptionally granted a lucrative six-month sabbatical with French first division club Perpignan.

The main attraction of Perpignan over Top 14 rivals Toulon, coached by Tana Umaga, was the lure of rugby in the European Cup.

His belated debut in December saw a typically assured display that yielded 16 points with the boot en route to a home victory over English giants Leicester.

Carter will have to go some, however, to match the popularity former half-back partner Byron Kelleher enjoys with French champions Toulouse.

Kelleher’s team were beaten last season by Munster, 16-13, in the European Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.

The competition continually provided gripping viewing, notably in the pool stages due to the fact that only the six group winners were assured of getting through to the eight-strong qualifying round.

That meant many strong sides fell by the wayside and no team could afford to field under-strength line-ups in fear of dropping vital points, notably in the race for the two spots on offer to the second best pool finishers.

The Six Nations tournament was won by Wales, claiming their second Grand Slam in four years after wrapping up wins over England, Ireland, Italy and Scotland.

Having won just once during the 2007 edition and then exited the World Cup before the quarter-finals after a naive display in defeat against Fiji, Welsh prospects looked grim when they were 19-6 down against England in their tournament opener.

But Wales enjoyed a 12-minute purple patch, fighting back to secure a 26-19 victory and a first Twickenham triumph in 20 years.

It was a storybook start for the new Wales coaching team of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards. Wins over Scotland and Italy followed before a first Dublin victory in eight years took Wales to the brink of glory.

The Grand Slam was sealed with a thrilling 29-12 victory over France.

England, after a 33-10 final day win over Ireland, finished second -their best placing since their 2003 Grand Slam.

In the wake of Ireland’s fourth placed finish – for the first time since 1999 – and first-round World Cup exit, coach Eddie O’Sullivan was sacked and replaced by Declan Kidney.

England’s Brian Ashton did not remain in his post for long, either, replaced by former captain Martin Johnson, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain.

In the Super 14 tournam

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