WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Three days after winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, Graham Henry — at that stage without the sir in front of his name — turned to his All Blacks side, and said: “It’s all over. Thank you.” It was a full stop and a line drawn under his tenure in charge of the world’s No. 1 side, but his passion for the game is still boundless six years on.
He is an avid watcher of the sport and is fascinated to see how European rugby is forever changing, with particular interest paid to the culture within Saracens and Clermont Auvergne after their recent successes in Europe and France.
The selection of Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12 is Warren Gatland stacking his chips, throwing them into the middle of the table and then waiting; he has shown his hand.
Kieran Read insists the British & Irish Lions’ future is not in doubt — no matter the result in the Test series with New Zealand.
The British & Irish Lions face a gruelling 10-game tour of New Zealand, including three Tests against the All Blacks. ESPN will be there with full, up-to-date coverage every step of the way.
When he and his wife, Raewyn, were preparing to move house recently, he found the box containing programmes from each of the 144 Tests he has coached; mementos from a previous stage in his life but one which is still inevitably linked with the sport he gave so much to.
The day after the World Cup final in 2011, the offers started pouring in from rugby teams, nations and other sporting institutions. The demand for high performance nous is boundless in professional sport; everyone tries to capture a little morsel of the winning mindset Henry installed in that 2011 group, which laid the foundations for further success four years on. But since then he has not taken on a full-time role, instead offering his knowledge and services on a consultancy basis.
He has been a mentor for Sport New Zealand’s new coaches, has assisted the Blues and also worked with rugby league franchise the Warriors to help under-fire coach Andrew McFadden last year. And then there were his spells with Argentina and Leinster, but consultancy work will be his limit.
“You miss the people, the challenge, the responsibility of a job like the All Blacks,” Henry told ESPN. “I had 12 years of international coaching with Wales, the Lions and the All Blacks so that’s probably sufficient.
“I love the game. I’m not interested in coaching another team again, I did that for 45 years and 144 Test matches. I like coaching coaches.
“I had a very enjoyable time with Leinster, I enjoyed the guys and the club. With Argentina it was when they first got in the championship — I spent time trying to assist in a small way, so it’s all good.”
He linked up with Argentina on a one-year advisory basis prior to their debut season in the Rugby Championship back in 2012, but on the proviso he would not be able to coach them against the All Blacks. His message to the Pumas was that they needed to score more tries, and empowered them to devise their own Argentinean style of rugby rather than trying to emulate others.
Graham Henry watches on during a Leinster training session. Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images
“Argentina hadn’t been playing Championship rugby so it was just trying to help them ease into that competition and be competitive,” Henry remembers.
“Mostly they have, they’ve beaten South Africa and Australia, but they haven’t beaten the All Blacks yet. They played very well in the last Rugby World Cup so they’re improving.
“It’s just about consistency and on-field discipline. They’re a 15-man side now, they used to be a nine-man rugby team who kicked the ball a lot and tried to grind it out in the forwards. They’re an expansive rugby team now. They need to get the balance right which they’re working on. Their discipline sometimes lets them down.” Such was his impact in 2012, he signed on for a further year.
In the summer of 2016 he got the call from Leinster, and was hired by the Irish province on a coaching consultancy basis to help mentor their young coaching staff. He loved his team in Dublin.
“I was at Leinster for two weeks so they had young coaches who had been thrown in the deep end,” Henry says. “They wanted to share ideas and talk ideas. I really enjoyed it. Leo Cullen as the head coach, Girvan Dempsey was the assistant coach and Stuart Lancaster had joined them, he’ll be a real asset.
“They’re young guys and had huge experience of playing at the highest level but not much coaching experience. So we had a chat about sharing ideas and talking about the games. I really enjoyed the players. Leinster had a real ability and depth of talent. They were pretty capable, so I enjoyed the experience.”
Henry has been keeping a close eye on the Lions series, and given he coached them back in 2001, he has a vested interest in the famous touring side. “They’re one of the most important brands in world rugby,” Henry says.
“There’s a lot of history, pride and also playing against the team. Hopefully that’s not the case. Maybe the people who make the decisions on how to fit things together need to be more sensitive and try and assist the Lions more than they do now.”
Henry coached the British & Irish Lions on their 2001 tour of Australia. Ross Land/Getty Images
When the Lions leave town, Henry’s attention will be back on the remainder of the Super Rugby season and then the focus will be on the Rugby Championship. He is pleased with the overall health of the worldwide game, but does harbour concerns over the lack of genuine challengers to the All Blacks.
“At international level, some of the sides aren’t as strong as they used to be, namely the Wallabies and Springboks. We need good competitions; that’s why this Lions series is so important, international rugby needs competition and good games, close games which galvanises the public who love the game.
“The English have got better under Eddie [Jones], the Irish are pretty strong, the Welsh beat the Irish, but the Irish are ranked higher. The Scots improved as have the French; there’s improvement in the Northern Hemisphere.
“At Super Rugby level, the same things happen. The South African and Australian teams aren’t as competitive as they used to be. The European club teams are strong — someone like Clermont obviously have a good culture there. Saracens have won the European Cup twice in a row and have got their act together, have a good culture and good players. The club game is improving.
“In the Southern Hemisphere it seems it’s not as good but New Zealand rugby is in good shape. Hopefully everyone is focused on getting better.”
You can imagine those seeking improvements may well pick up the phone and dial Henry’s number.
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Henry happy with life after All Blacks
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