Argentina must adopt professionalism - Henry

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 12:54 24/02/2013
Graham Henry
Getty Images
HELPING HAND: Sir Graham Henry with Argentina coach Santiago Phelan.

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Graham Henry wants to continue his involvement with Argentina in this year's Rugby Championship.

Henry raised eyebrows last year when he joined the Pumas camp to help Argentina's young head coach, Santiago Phelan.

The controversial move came less than a year after Henry had overseen New Zealand's World Cup success. That left some Kiwis uncomfortable as he plotted against many of his victorious All Blacks who were coached by Henry's long-term assistant, Steve Hansen.

Henry's move was part of his freelance landscape that saw his talents sought overseas and in New Zealand in a broad mentoring role.

Now, as he immerses himself in a fulltime job as an assistant to John Kirwan at the Blues, Henry made it clear he would like to return to the Pumas when the Super Rugby season ends.

"Yeah, most probably. That hasn't been quite finalised yet but that's the intention," the 66-year-old said.

The 38-year-old Phelan took over from long-serving Pumas coach Marcelo Loffreda in 2008 and, according to Henry, is "very inexperienced" in coaching terms.

"The only thing he's coached apart from international rugby is his kid's under-12 side. So he asked me to mentor him which I did last year. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the people and I enjoyed the challenge," Henry said. He believes it's a challenge that will only increase.

Desperate to make their mark in the expanded Tri-Nations, the Pumas used Henry's knowledge to make a credible debut against the world heavyweights.

They drew 18-all with the Springboks in Argentina, got pipped 23-19 by the Wallabies in Brisbane and pushed the All Blacks hard in Wellington before the score blew out late to finish 21-5.

"They made a good impression...they had an opportunity to win a couple of games. But I think it will get harder this year, because the other three sides will know them more. I also think that Australia and South Africa will be better this year. New Zealand are always going to be strong but the other two will come up."

But Henry believes it will take more than his coaching talent to get things on the right track long term. It will require a change in culture in Argentina rugby, where the game remains an amateur outpost in a professional world.

"The Argentinians either stay at home and play amateur football or they play professional rugby in Europe. So they get no break from the game - and that's going to take its toll. It makes it hugely difficult for them," Henry said of the top Pumas operating in Europe for club play and then the Southern Hemisphere for tests during our winter.

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"I think what they have to do - and I'm sure they are thinking this way - is to start professional rugby at home with a couple of teams."

Henry believed that, aligned with players infiltrating Super Rugby squads in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, would allow the Pumas a better base to operate from.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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