Graham Henry has revealed the full extent of his involvement with Argentina this week and is not ruling out the possibility of sitting in the visitors' coaches box at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.
The exact nature of the All Blacks' World Cup-winning coach's role with the Pumas has been unclear, but Henry said there should be no confusion.
He plans to don an Argentinian tracksuit at training today at the Hutt Recreation Ground and said he was doing "all he can" to help the touring side prepare for their test against the team he guided just 10 months ago.
"You can't misrepresent the role. I'm with the Argentinian side this week and next week and the two games against Australia and New Zealand, as I have been for the previous three weeks," he said from the team's Wellington hotel.
"Helping with the high performance department and development of rugby is one role and the other is helping the national coaches in the role of coaching the Argentinian side."
Did that extend to wearing team kit?
"Of course, I'm with the Argentinian team and helping them as best I can. They are playing in the best rugby competition in the world and hopefully they can do well."
And would he be sitting in the coaches' box?
"I don't know. It hasn't been discussed," Henry said, noting he had not done so during the Pumas' first two Rugby Championship matches against South Africa only because of other commitments.
He didn't expect any negative reaction to his involvement.
"I think the New Zealand public are delighted one of the lesser lights of world rugby are getting some assistance," he said.
"I think it's different to helping coach one of the teams that's traditionally in the top echelon, like England or Australia or South Africa."
Henry's ability to take a full part in Argentina's campaign is because restrictions originally placed on his involvement by the New Zealand Rugby Union no longer apply.
Those had set boundaries around information sharing and the ability to "coach" the side before matches against the All Blacks.
But New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew confirmed Henry became a free agent after taking up an assistant coaching role with the Blues.
"We had him contracted for two years post World Cup, but his role with the Blues is independent of our coach support for that team, so his contract is with them," Tew said. "He's off contract with us and ultimately in that regard he's a free agent."
The NZRU's original contract would have precluded Henry from taking a "hands-on" role in the buildup to tests against the All Blacks.
But restraining any former employee's use of intellectual property or expertise for any length of time was "too costly", Tew said.
"The challenge for the current group is to be ahead of the game, so whatever he is able to provide to the Argentinians in terms of our stuff will be stale.
"I think we've seen that in the first five games [under Hansen] anyway."
So are the NZRU uncomfortable with Henry's expanded role this week?
"We wouldn't have been comfortable under the contract we had with him, but he's a free agent and he can make his own calls," Tew said.
"We always envisaged he'd help prepare Argentina for this championship as part of the commitment we made to them coming into the [tournament].
"We wanted them to be able to put their best foot forward and we knew they had a bit of ground to make up."
Of course Tew, and the All Blacks, will be hoping Henry's magic can't close the home team's 33-10 winning margin last time the sides met.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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