Friday, January 25, 2008

Thinking about Graham Henry

Once again, the New Zealand Rugby Union have acted maturely and professionally.

Late last year they reappointed Graham Henry as All Black coach despite the crippling disappointment in Cardiff where a fired-up France knocked the All Blacks out of the World Cup for another four years.

New Zealand had two outstanding candidates in Robbie Deans and Graham Henry, and Australia moved swiftly to appoint Deans as the Wallabies coach. This is epoch changing for Australian sport. Australia has not only gone outside one of their own, but in choosing a dreaded Kiwi to boot, has Peter FitzSimons and other Australian critics spewing.

Wales also benefited by appointing Warren Gatland, another Kiwi, to coach their underperforming squad. Add Japan based John Kirwan into the mix and we have the world doing a great job of providing international experience for more New Zealand coaches. Thank you world.

Here’s the beautiful paradox. Isn’t it odd that despite not winning the World Cup since 1987, our coaches are still the most sought after?

One thing’s for sure, all four of these guys are the real thing and I’m confident they will learn from their new jobs. At Robbie Deans’ inaugural interview in Australia, he revealed that he had recently spoken to John Wright, a New Zealand cricket legend who coached India against New Zealand. He asked John what it was like to coach against your homeland. Wright told Deans, “It was fantastic, like competing against your brother in the backyard”. And that’s as good as it gets for any red blooded male!

It will certainly set the scene for a tremendous Bledisloe Cup this year, and will re-ignite interest in the All Blacks back home. I will be interested to see how Canterbury and the South feel when their man Deans brings the enemy over the ditch.

So, like Clive Woodward in England a few years back, Graham Henry has now been given another chance to deliver.

Graham’s a top guy, a top coach and a top New Zealander.

Now it’s about learning from Cardiff, building on what went before, and figuring out how to develop the side. All this in an environment where many of our best players have left for the Northern Hemisphere and other teams scent vulnerability. Change is inevitable, but in my experience, the most important part of the process is knowing what not to change. This is why I believe the NZRU have done the right thing in choosing Graham. Changing him would have been reactionary and high risk. Changing things in his planning (like the dreaded reconditioning program and the rotation policy) whilst building on the strengths of the program should result in progress. (Watch for NZ Rugby World next month for a 10 point change plan). Keeping Steve Hansen in the mix is also a huge plus.

I know adidas have worked hard to bring back the idea of non-international games for the All Blacks, starting with two of the greatest sides in Europe, Munster (where we have a bit of history) and Stade Français. These will be full-on sell-out fixtures, and give us an opportunity to blood players for New Zealand without giving them test jerseys. I believe the game needs this injection in the arm and I believe rugby lovers throughout the world will welcome its return.

I still haven’t watched the Cardiff game on videotape and I’m steeling myself to do that over the holidays. We all need to get that out of the system. Then we can enter 2008 full of hope and rugby!

Over to you, Graham.