Graham Henry retires from the All Blacks as their greatest coach

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    Alright, that's just about enough out of you, Sir Henry.

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    They say about coaches in any sport that they come in two categories: those about to be sacked and those who will be sacked later on. Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach who broke the ‘choking barrier’ with his side in RWC 2011, has defied the odds.

    He has effectively retired from coaching at the international level on his own terms and at his own time.

    Nine days after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup and after a world record 103 Test (for 88 wins and 15 losses) Henry today told the New Zealand rugby media he’d ‘had enough.’

    He will probably take up a mentoring role with provincial and school boy coaches. But his days as a hands-on coach at the highest level are over.

    Right after the World Cup victory, Henry said he could ‘rest in peace.’ And, at the age of 65, and three decades of front line coaching, this is what he is apparently going to do.

    There is no doubt that if Henry had wanted to continue with the All Blacks the NZRU would have found a way to do it.

    As it is, his successor will probably be Steve Hansen with Ian Foster, the unimpressive Chiefs coach, as his back-up.

    There is talk in New Zealand, too, that the former AFL coach Mick Byrne will be part of the new All Blacks coaching staff.

    In his farewell conference as the All Blacks coach Henry went out of his to praise Hansen and Byrne, thereby designating them as his successors.

    At the end of the failed RWC 2007 campaign, Henry was shattered. He decided not to apply for another stint with the All Blacks.

    But he was talked out of this by the CEO of the NZRU, Steve Tew. Tew did not get on with the logical candidate Robbie Deans. So he virtually organised the way for Deans to be passed over and for Henry to be given his chance of redemption.

    The logic behind this decision was that Henry was a great coach (true enough) who would learn from the mistakes of the failed RWC 2007 campaign, rather like Sir Clive Woodward in RWC 2003 after his initial failed campaign of RWC 1999.

    The decision to stay with Henry meant that Deans was available for the Wallabies.

    Deans brought with him to Australia a huge amount of intellectual property on rugby coaching which has seen the Wallabies rise from fifth place in the world rankings when he took over to the current position of number 2.

    Also, it was Deans coached players like Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane who provided the Reds with the flair to win their first Super Rugby title this season.

    Interestingly, Tew talked about not wanting to lose the ‘intellectual property’ that Henry possesses that made him grateful that he did not take up the offers to coach overseas that have flooded in after the World Cup victory.

    The great Fred Allen coached the All Blacks in an unbeaten run in the late 1960s. But he had the team for only 14 or so Tests. And he did not take it to South Africa. Power politics within the NZRU prevented this from happening.

    But in terms of the length of his career with the All Blacks, the trophies they won under his guidance and the remarkable win/loss ration, Henry has claims right now to be regarded as the greatest coach the iconic side has had.

    Aside from his record, Henry had a special gift of being able to inspire the best play from those players with an Pacific Island background.

    Someone like Ma’a Nonu, for instance, could be lacklustre for the Hurricanes and then outstanding for the All Blacks, all within a matter of weeks.

    The old school teacher and headmaster in Henry seemed to give him a special rapport with his players. Even when the All Blacks performed poorly under him, as they did in 2008 and 2009, there was never talk of players being discontented or rebellious.

    Henry was helped (and helped himself in fact) with his shrewd selection of captains. He appointed Tana Umaga as his first captain of the All Blacks. Umaga was the first long-term captain of the All Blacks with a Pacific Islander background. And then his successor, Richie McCaw.

    It was Umaga’s personality and play that won-over many people in New Zealand who disliked the rugby culture to embrace the All Blacks. Umaga also made an impassioned speech at the IRB which played its part in New Zealand winning the hosting rights to RWC 2011.

    McCaw, of course, was the heart and soul of the All Blacks in the RWC 2011 final.

    He played on one leg but was simply inspirational as he willed his team to victory.

    The All Blacks had done courses into how to control their feelings in a final when the game looked to be slipping from them. The final was that game. And McCaw’s fiery optimism and courage in that last half hour of play was the difference between the two sides.

    Aside from the impact of his selection of captains and his winning record, Henry deserves another accolade for keeping the faith in attacking rugby.

    Indeed, even after the failure of the RWC 2007 when the All Blacks tried to score tries rather than kicking drop goals, Henry insisted that a World Cup was not worth winning if it could only be achieved by a negative, kicking tactics.

    Even if they did not always achieve the ensemble running game all the time (and the RWC 2011 final is one such occasion), the All Blacks under Henry were always an attack-minded side. They ran the ball when they could and tried to score tries when they could.

    The effect of this commitment to the attacking game should not be under-estimated.

    During the World Cup tournament virtually all the British journalists made the point that the England game of smash and grab the points was too boring a spectacle in an era when rugby is claiming a place in the world of entertainment-sport.

    Even the old curmudgeon himself, Stephen Jones, declared before the final that it would be a tragedy for rugby if the All Blacks did not win the tournament.

    As it happened, the All Blacks played their worst match in the tournament in the final. But they had the courage to hang on and break the hoodoo that was blighting the soul of New Zealand rugby.

    Only four of the All Blacks RWC 2011 squad are leaving New Zealand.

    It will be interesting to see what the new coaching staff will do with the team that Henry built.

    Can it get better and achieve back-to-back World Cup wins or will it collapse the way other World Cup winning sides have done?

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • November 1st 2011 @ 5:40pm
      Kuruki said | November 1st 2011 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

      If Hansen and Foster get the gig like expected, then it is going to be a really nervous few years for the All Blacks. And another nervous few years trying to rebuild the systems after they are both sacked by public outcry. Foster is close to the worst coach in New Zealand, he sure as hell got nothing out of some pretty decent players for 8 years, while he was at the Chiefs.

      • November 1st 2011 @ 6:25pm
        kiwidave said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

        I reckon Hansen and Foster will last 2 years and then get replace by some combo of Joseph/Blackadder/Rennie.

        • Roar Guru

          November 1st 2011 @ 10:32pm
          all7days said | November 1st 2011 @ 10:32pm | ! Report

          Exactly right! But please no Foster

      • November 1st 2011 @ 6:44pm
        cinematic said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

        I think they’ll do okay. Hansen’s shrewd.

        • November 1st 2011 @ 7:57pm
          Rugby realist said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

          I am hay with Hansen,. You can’t argue with how the forwards have been the past 2 years. Its Foster that will give cause for concern, at least until he proves himself.

          It will also be interesting to see how the succession plan works for players who may not be able to quite make it to the next WC. For instance, as a big a fan of Conrad Smith as I am, I am not sure he willl be up to scratch in 4 years. There is also a question mark over out incredible hooker Kevin Mealamu.

          Past world cups have shown that it is a fine balance between an over the hill ageing team (arguably ABs 91, Aus 95, Boks 11) and a battled hardened experienced side that knows how to win (Eng 03, ABs 11). It is particularly difficult for defending champions

          • November 1st 2011 @ 9:14pm
            Kuruki said | November 1st 2011 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

            i still remember when the Blacks had a real serious issue with the Lineout and things were not going so well compared to normal standards. The coaches decided they felt things had become a bit stagnent and they switched roles, the impact was immediate especially on the forwards, it was like Hansen had run out of ideas and Henry had to come in and get things moving again. After the success of these changes Hansen was quick to point out he wanted his forwards coaching role back, i think he felt a bit of a blow to the ego when he watched Henry work his magic. These are the situations i fear Hansen will not be able to dig himself out of without Smith and Henry there with him. Foster has had one of the most underachieving and loose packs for the past 8 years of Super rugby, i fail to see how he will give Hansen any ideas in that area.
            Hansen is a good coach no doubt, but the All Blacks tricks will now be found out after winning this world cup, coaches will be onto them. Will Hansen have new tricks up his sleeve? I dont think so, i reckon he has used them all up over his years in the Blacks camp.

            • November 2nd 2011 @ 7:58am
              Mungehead said | November 2nd 2011 @ 7:58am | ! Report

              You make some very good points Kuruki

              • November 2nd 2011 @ 10:47pm
                Rugby realist said | November 2nd 2011 @ 10:47pm | ! Report

                Yes, really good points.

                At least Hansen seems to have improved his ”i you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality towards the media. Although if he is under pressure it will be interesting to see how he adapts, in this regard, and in terms of the points raised by Kuriki above.

    • November 1st 2011 @ 5:52pm
      Johnno said | November 1st 2011 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

      funnty this chat would never of happened had deans got the jobs, and the all blacks just won by 1 point. Who had a better record in there time Grhame Henry or Brian Lochore i don’t know. You have to compare who was the best in there era base don win loss ratio and world cup wins of course. Grhame henry was massively critisced in 2007 for the french loss, and i remember in 2008 deans form memory beat him and henry was on shaky ground and many kiwis saying henry was not up to it , and many wanted Deans. funny how 3 or 4 years chugs everything. Would Deand of won the world cup with this current all black squad. A pure hypothetical question, funny now hardly anyone in NZ would want DEANS OVER hENRY FOR THIS WORLD CUP CAMPAIGN, WINNERS ARE GRINNERS, and Deans super 15 records at the crusaders seems to hold little value in regards ot being best NZ coach. Could deans of won with this squad and done what he did at the crusaders, well maybe as your have to remember dan carter and mcgaw and brad thorn were at Deans CRUSADERS TEAMS.
      ANd after our tri nations win, everyone was kicking graham henry and backing deans as the most modern and innovative rugby coach ever. Hard to not laugh at that won after the wallabies world cup campaign.
      SO Henry the greatest yes, i always liked Laurie Mains he played some greta rugby with the best all blacks team in my opinion still in the last 20 years class of 1995.
      And did Colin Meads ever coach the All Blacks i don’t know but im sure he did some work with the NZRU as an administrator in some capacity.
      John hart was not a Bad coach either he had a great 1997 team as well, but for mine it is a 3 horse race between , Henry, lochore, and Mains, and the Jonah Lomu AB side of 1995 was the best AB side in last 20 years.

      • November 1st 2011 @ 6:25pm
        Jerry said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

        “ANd after our tri nations win, everyone was kicking graham henry and backing deans as the most modern and innovative rugby coach ever”

        No they weren’t.

        Meads was a manager back in 95. He did ‘coach’ the Cavaliers in 86, though he did no real coaching.

        • November 1st 2011 @ 7:26pm
          Johnno said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:26pm | ! Report

          well it is true, Jerry they were, and after our win in blomfentien. Everyone was harping on in both those results how attacking an dmdoern deans wads and how he supposedly had turned a young naive team suddenly into a team of champions, deans after the brsbane win viz a kieren reid 1st half injury and adam thompson laying 1st half with 1 arm and ali williams having to play at no 6, and nz having jet lag issues, and still almost won everyone or many people were riding the dingo deans trained massively, Jeryr and kURUKI,. ANd more shrewd people new come playing the all blacks in Eden park auckland would be much much tougher and whole new ball game and this was proved. The all blacks were rotating in the tri nations, and made deans look better than he was for the reasons i mentioned above.

          • November 1st 2011 @ 7:48pm
            Jerry said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

            Well, no one in NZ was writing Henry off or thinking Deans was suddenly a great test coach based off one good match, but if it makes you feel better….

            • November 2nd 2011 @ 1:19pm
              Mike said | November 2nd 2011 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

              I do actually recall a lot of kiwis criticising Henry in 2007, often quite harshly. Not disagreeing with your overall point, Jerry, but just saying…

              • November 2nd 2011 @ 1:28pm
                Jerry said | November 2nd 2011 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

                Oh, yeah he came in for a lot of criticism in 07. AB coaches are hardly free from the NZ rugby public’s (dare I say it, often kneejerk) critical eye.

      • November 1st 2011 @ 6:44pm
        Kuruki said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:44pm | ! Report

        ArE You DrinKING??

        • November 2nd 2011 @ 3:00am
          Touko said | November 2nd 2011 @ 3:00am | ! Report


    • November 1st 2011 @ 6:15pm
      darwin stubby said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

      Definitely the right decision was made to encourage and then reappoint Henry – a great coach and he deserves the accolades … I don’t think Deans would have built a better side if he got the gig after 07 and I certainly don’t think they would have won this year under him – his international record just doesn’t hold water … the NZRFU deserve the kudos for seeing through the Deans record and changing their hire and fire 4 year cycle …

      I’m equally as convinced that Hanson is good enough to continue on the record … he did well with Wales and international rugby isn’t a big pond … sure it’s easy to praise Deans saying he’s kept the Wallabies at #2 – but flip it over and see he’s done that on the back of a mid 50% win/loss record and you can see that international rugby isn’t that strong – even in their down periods the AB’s will always be thereabouts – Hanson just needs to keep them ahead of the curve (even mitchell and Mains proved that was possible) …. Foster is an interesting choice (if chosen) sure he’s not got a great record as a head coach – but his niche may well be as a an assistant – i’m willing to give him the benefit – he’s certainly performed in other roles NZ A etc …

      • November 1st 2011 @ 6:52pm
        cinematic said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

        Deans watershed year may be just around the corner.

        But if the Wallabies crash and burn next season (I’m picking they’ll go well) he’s toast and will likely never get the AB’s gig he so covets.

        • November 1st 2011 @ 7:08pm
          darwin stubby said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

          Deans is a very long way from the NZ gig … apart from improving his record he will also need to get back and coach in NZ for a few years ….. I can’t see the next couple of seasons being anything other than more of the same – he’s not going to just find a forward pack over the next 6 months … the same old problems will be there next year … the boks will be rebuilding, but have depth and more importantly a new coach and NZ aren’t losing many players – the Wallabies won’t find next year a walk in the park

      • November 1st 2011 @ 10:06pm
        Mario said | November 1st 2011 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

        Hansen is a good coach but I disagree completely when you say he done good with Wales, he led a disastrous 2003 Six Nationas and failed to win a single game, he also lost 12 games on the trot while coaching them.

    • November 1st 2011 @ 6:43pm
      cinematic said | November 1st 2011 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

      Well done Graham. Nuts of steel.

      • November 2nd 2011 @ 10:54am
        Pillock said | November 2nd 2011 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Henry has a good record and so he should.
        Look at the talent he has at his disposal.
        Good players make good coaches.

    • November 1st 2011 @ 7:02pm
      KW said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

      Sprio, you really do need to check your facts. 2008 the AB’s won the Bledisloe, Tri-Nations and all games on the EOYT

      • November 1st 2011 @ 7:18pm
        Jerry said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

        They did lose two on the trot in 08, one at home and one very heavily to the Wallabies (the first match Henry coached vs Deans) so maybe that’s what Spiro was talking about? A bad patch.

        • November 1st 2011 @ 7:52pm
          Rugby realist said | November 1st 2011 @ 7:52pm | ! Report

          yea, agree KW.

          The lean years under Henry were arguably only:

          04 (No Tri Nations, still tweaking selections and gamplans before the French test at end of year)
          07 (World Cup disaster
          09 (loses to France and Springboks at home. Generally terrible against Boks aerial assault)

          Although if there were 2 consecutive loses in 08 (cant quite remember) this is a bad patch by ABs standards, but not what you would call a bad year if the other games were won

          • November 1st 2011 @ 8:04pm
            Jerry said | November 1st 2011 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

            They lost to the Boks in Dunedin (first home loss in 5 years) then got beaten by 14 points in Sydney (which would be in the top 10 biggest losing margins). Came back strong though, kicked the Wallabies arse by about 28 points in Auckland then beat the Boks in SA by 19-0.

            • November 1st 2011 @ 9:06pm
              Kuruki said | November 1st 2011 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

              Wasnt McCaw missing for those two losses? then he returned and it was like everything just clicked back into gear. I think anyway hahaha

              • November 1st 2011 @ 9:22pm
                Jerry said | November 1st 2011 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

                Yeah, he was.

            • November 2nd 2011 @ 11:28am
              Dc said | November 2nd 2011 @ 11:28am | ! Report

              Jerry that 19-0 win over the boks in south Africa still ranks as one of the best in my mind…dan carter scored an unbelievable solo try dotting down backwards and Conrad scored a wonderful kick chase try . Richie was shagged after that game…the boks had a top team win in south Africa and not concede any points was amazing …

    • November 1st 2011 @ 8:05pm
      Johnno said | November 1st 2011 @ 8:05pm | ! Report

      For me what changed the all blacks AROUND FORM THE END OF THE 2009 TRI NATIONS to the present 2011 RWC WiN. is simple. Grhame Hnery re assumed control of head forwards coach, and took much greater day to day operations of the forwards worked and analysis and tactics, i don’t know if steve chanson was the fords coach and styed in that job officially but graham hENRY BASICALLY BECOME THE FORWADS boss rather than overseeing the forwards. A master stroke after the springboks white wash of 2009. Alos i think the 2009 Boks peaked that year, would the books of beaten NZ in NZ with bakes botha, frans stein, and juan smith all available another hypothetical. interesting anyway that danie rossow in many peoples mind was the lock of the torunmant so maybe bakkies loss was blessing.

      But Henry i still think would of beaten the books had they made the grand final, if juan smith or frans stein had been available maybe not. Juan smith in my opinions better than Kaino. ANd so is dussaTour better than KAaino in my opinion.
      But Hnery is defiantly a better coach than Deans , sure all the NZ knockers of henry are eating humble pie now, is he better than the Laurie mains coahed jonah loom team of 1995 maybe not, is he better than laurie mains very close call maybe just.

      But henrys masterstroke was talking over as fords coach at end of 2009.

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