British & Irish Lions
Henry admits to mistakes in '01
ESPN Staff
April 29, 2013
New Zealand coach Graham Henry drinks from the William Webb Ellis cup, New Zealand v France, Rugby World Cup Final, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, October 23, 2011
Like former England boss Sir Clive Woodward, Sir Graham Henry has tasted World Cup success but failed with the Lions © Getty Images

Former British & Irish Lions coach Sir Graham Henry has admitted he 'made some wrong decisions' during the 2001 tour to Australia that he believes cost his side a series victory.

The Lions suffered an agonising 2-1 series defeat to the Wallabies 12 years ago during an enthralling and headline-grabbing trip Down Under. In particular, Henry's decision to select his Test side in the early stages of the tour and deny fringe players the chance to challenge for a place has always been seen as a controversial move that created a divide within the squad and resulted in the likes of Matt Dawson and Austin Healey choosing to air their grievances in public.

Reflecting on a rare low point in an otherwise glittering coaching career, Henry told the Western Mail: "I learned more from that experience as a coach than any other. I did not do things as well as I should have and made some wrong decisions. If I had got them right, we would have won the series.

"I thought I could do the job, but I was green as an international coach then. I now know that the position of Lions head coach is the most demanding in Test rugby. I do look back on 2001 with some fond memories because the Test series was terrific with some outstanding rugby played.

"There was nothing between the teams, seven tries each, and it went to the very end, even though by the third Test injuries had really hit us hard. I managed the tour as I did because we were in Australia at the end of a long, hard season and we'd minimal preparation time. What we did show was that we were a very good rugby side."

The 66-year-old, who memorably steered New Zealand to the 2011 Rugby World Cup crown, is confident that current Lions coach Warren Gatland will get it right as the elite tourists target their first series triumph since 1997.

"Warren is an outstanding coach with a wealth of experience," said Henry. "He has led Wales to a couple of Grand Slams and they retained the Six Nations this year. I know he was not around, but it was his set-up. He had a successful spell with Ireland previously and he understands what the Lions are all about. He is exactly the right man for the job."

But Henry has warned the Lions they can expect a challenge just as tough as that they faced in 2001 when they were tackling the reigning world champions. "You only have to look at this year's Super 15 to see that Australian players have a different stride," he said, "Their teams have played some exceptional rugby and what everyone should always be aware of is what a Lions tour means to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

"For some players, it is not even a once-in-a-lifetime's chance because a tour comes once every 12 years, so for those who are in the frame this year, it is hugely stimulating. Supporters love the tours: they arrive from Britain and Ireland in their many thousands and Test tickets do not remain on sale for very long. I expect it to be another close series."

Lions coach Graham Henry reflects on his side's narrow series defeat back in 2001 © Getty Images
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