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Graham Henry faces World Cup examination

Graham Henry faces World Cup examination

If Graham Henry can coach the All Blacks to victory at the World Cup in France in October, rugby might finally see the 'Great Redeemer' redeemed.
Henry earned the Redeemer tag at the outset of his tenure as coach of Wales, when he led the Welsh, after a period of mediocrity, to signal wins over France and South Africa.
The remainder of Henry's reign in Wales, later as coach of the British Isles, is in keeping with the tenor of his career as a whole: one of success followed by mixed results, factionalism and ambivalence.
In his coaching spells with Auckland province and the Auckland Blues, Wales, the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks, Henry has enjoyed some success but the historical record, and the final judgement on his ability, has been blurred.
Auckland and the Blues were national and international forces when he took charge and both prospered, then eventually declined under his control. Wales started strongly, then faded and when he finally left that role he had been widely blamed for the decline and the term Great Redeemer was being applied satirically.
The Lions came within an inch of winning their 2001 series in Australia but did not win and, by the series' end, had degenerated into factions whose mutual bitterness tainted British rugby for some time afterwards.
Even the All Blacks, who have won all but a meager handful of tests since Henry took charge after the 2003 World Cup _ 38 of 42 _ will not be considered unequivocally successful until they have won this year's world tournament in France.
John Graham, a former All Blacks captain who was Henry's sixth grade teacher, then his boss and is one of a few people Henry asserts has been an influence in his life, put it succinctly in a recent interview.
"New Zealanders are very tough on coaches that don't win the essential games," Graham said.
"He's a great coach now I think. But to cement his reputation he has to win the World Cup. This is his holy grail."
Henry has always polarized opinion. He has many strident supporters, not least among the notable players he has coached, but even the most faithful of those admit that his methods and his manner left them, at times, nonplussed.
He taught geography and physical education at Auckland Grammar and Kelston Boys' High School _ both notable rugby nurseries _ and he still has more than a little of the school teacher in his manner. He can be prickly, disapproving, and his players _ who call him "Ted" _ admire him with reservation.
He has tried in recent years to produce a more sympathetic public image ... he smiles a great deal more than he used to but he is not naturally gregarious and his detractors style him as stiff and condescending.
Henry has seldom talked in depth about his coaching style or philosophy and it is difficult to discern from the performances of his teams _ because he has often delegated responsibilities to qualified subordinates _ the central planks of his regimes.
"I enjoy the process of coaching," he said in a 2004 interview.
"I get a huge buzz when the guys play well. I guess that's the biggest Adrenalin rush you can get, when a team plays to potential.
Rugby is increasingly a cult of personalities and if the All Blacks fail to win the World Cup, blame will fall more heavily on him than on his players, his assistant coaches or co-selectors.
A recent book, "The Reign of King Henry," argues Henry already deserves a central place in New Zealand rugby history.
"Like all instigators of change, opinion is divided as to whether he is a revolutionary or a destroyer of traditions that should have been left alone," author Gregor Paul says in his introduction.
"The All Blacks' achievements since his appointment in December 2003 point emphatically to the former _ that he is a visionary who has created a new mold for his successors to follow.
"He has been bold where previous All Black coaches have been timid. He has been inclusive where some of his predecessors have been exclusive and he has been flexible where others have been rigid.
"As a consequence, his coaching record stands comparison with all those who have gone before and will almost certainly stand comparison with all those who succeed him."


Updated : 2021-07-26 05:28 GMT+08:00