New Zealand tour
Henry making most of second chance
November 25, 2008
Henry collected the IRB Award for Coach of the Year earlier this week © Getty Images
Graham Henry insists the decision to retain him as head coach has been vindicated by New Zealand's success this season.
A shock quarter-final exit from last autumn's World Cup appeared to have doomed Henry and his coaching lieutenants Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen. But the New Zealand Rugby Union chose to overlook Robbie Deans, who was subsequently headhunted by Australia, and the All Blacks have been unstoppable since.
They won the Tri-Nations after overcoming a poor start and will complete their third Grand Slam sweep of the home unions if they beat England at Twickenham on Saturday. "What we've achieved since the World Cup is satisfying. It's also good for the coaching team," said Henry, who has steered the All Blacks to eight successive victories.
"Robbie Deans is a very good rugby coach as everyone knows, and it was a difficult decision for the board. They stuck by us and it's good to repay that faith. They'll be feeling comfortable about that decision now. We as coaches are feeling more comfortable now too.
"We've learnt things from the last World Cup. The World Cup has had some positive impact."
"We felt a lot of pressure during the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup so to win those was pleasing. It gave us an opportunity to be more comfortable and relaxed, we've enjoyed the tour, added Henry.
"It's important to set goals, create some history and leave a legacy in their time in the jersey. This is an opportunity for this side to do that," he said. "To play five tests on five consecutive Saturdays and try to win them all is a major challenge and if we do that it's a fine achievement --- and just as good as winning the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup."
The pressure on Henry's shoulders may have lifted for the moment, but England manager Martin Johnson is finding himself under scrutiny. Alarming defeats by Australia and South Africa have left England's morale in tatters and Johnson must rouse his players or face a humiliating conclusion to his first autumn in charge.
Henry, however, believes England's World Cup winning captain needs patience to prove himself a success. "When he was appointed I thought Martin would be very good at the job," he said. "It will take some time but he'll be very good because he has very high standards and he expects high standards from others. People respect him.
"I'm sure Martin's been there before as a captain, it's part and parcel of the job."
Former Wales coach Hansen, New Zealand's forwards coach, agrees Johnson should be given time. "I've been there with Wales but Martin's clearly got a plan," he said. "The media and all the people who think they know about rugby yet don't have to front up in the arena, they have to be patient and give him the chance to prove himself.
"I think he'll end up being a very good England coach because of his character. He will demand that people around him come with him, but it won't happen overnight."
New Zealand made just one change to the side that thumped Wales 29-9 with Conrad Smith replacing Richard Kahui at outside centre.
"Conrad has been playing some very good rugby all year. He's the number one centre coming over and hasn't done anything to change that," said Henry. "We're back to our number one line-up basically."