Friday, December 07, 2007

Graham Henry: The Great Redeemed

Hot overnight news sees the NZRU re-appointing All Black head coach Graham Henry after New Zealand's World Cup flameout in early October. The board voted 7-1 in Henry's favour.

Henry's impressive W-L record with the team saw him preferred to Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, who is very unlucky, and is expected to be offered the Australian Wallabies head coach position.

A couple days ago the formidible Inky drafted a potent commentary that made as good sense as anything I've read about the AB coaching brouhaha since that brutal Saturday in Cardiff:

The All Blacks coach should be a forward coach anyway, in my opinion. When the current forward coach has an All Black pack delivering 75 percent of possession, this should be a one-horse race.

Assuming no miracle and it's not Steve Hansen who's appointed, I seriously don't care between Henry and Deans. [...]

But I also assume that, like most forward coaches, he is very patient. As is Inky... if we never get my Dream Team of Steve Hansen and Gordon Tietjens, it won't be because I haven't nominated them.

Henry was awarded a two-year contract. (Surely there'll be hell to pay if Deans succeeds with the Wallabies and takes the Bledisloe Cup back across the Tasman.)

Many All Black supporters in New Zealand are disappointed at the decision to retain Henry, but the chastened coach finally conceeded that his controversial reconditioning program, that saw All Blacks pulled from the Super 14 competition --"In hindsight it was a mistake," he says -- should go some way to assuaging fans venom.

The withering criticism of the reconditioning program and the standdown that cost Super 14 fan support, tv viewership, sponsorship mutiny and a great loss of dollars, was not Henry's doing alone. The NZRU were equal partners in approving that reconditioning program and have to assume some blame in the matter. Undoubtedly a big part of their decision to reappoint Henry was as much to protect their own skins. Dylan Cleaver believes the decision was entirely a political one.

OTOH the reappointment might be, as former AB Bull Allen remarked earlier this week, a sign that New Zealand is maturing and becomng more realistic. Henry's All Blacks, after all, sport a 42-6 record under his tenure, with Tri-Nations titles, Bledisloe Cups, a Lion Series sweep and more silverware sitting in the NZRU trophy cabinet. Alas, previous campaigns, including 1999 when fans were spitting at failed RWC coach John Hart's racehorse - despite Hart having delivered the All Blacks historic first-ever series win in South Africa only a couple years prior - were black eyes for the nations' rugby supporters.

Now it's time for New Zealand to lose their World Cup fixation.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Barbarians thump Bokke

A thrown-together-at-the-last-minute Barbarians, composed primarily of Kiwis, Okkers and South Sea Islanders, beat down a watered-down "world champion" Springboks at Twickenham on Saturday in front of an empty-lookin' crowd of 58,000 spectators (the stadium upper-ring was completely empty due to "rail works" (huh?)). It was an excellent, exciting game with total commitment, and went a long way to answering the question of whether Baabaas games are still relevant. The score was a comprehensive 22-5 victory over the World Cup holders, so there's your answer. It was Jake White's last game as Bok coach, and so too the final first class game of a thrilling career for two-code superstar Jason "Billy Whizz" Robinson. Old-time ex-AB scrummie Justin "Meg" Marshall spent much of the games' first spell looking slow afoot and throwing those dangerous long loaping passes that give Kiwis hemorrhoids. But in the second half he made repeatedly awesome scything tackles around the rucks that would have done any world class openside flanker proud, dragging down many 'Boks on the burst around the fringes, and spritely back up on his feet in nanoseconds in his own '22, helping prevent the Africans from taking anything away from lengthy line attacks in the 2nd-half drizzle. The defense by the cobbled-together team was magnificent across the park.

More Than Just A Little Bit Related Dep't:

Lots of great profiles of new Barbarian member Jerry Collins here, here and here.

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