Off the long run: The champion and pretender

Last updated 15:01 19/09/2012
Graham Henry and Robbie Deans

WISE MEN: But who is the wisest? Graham Henry or Robbie Deans?

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How do we know the difference between a champion coach and a coach who has simply coached a champion team?

For me, they need to have a positive influence on a number of different teams over a number of different years. In other words, they need to have a record of sustained excellence in various different environments.

To be a champion coach, you need to do more than be at the helm of a champion team. It is not about the number of titles you have. Rugby is a team sport, and there are many variables including coaches, players and management. So how do we know who the champion coaches are?

We need to look at the teams they have coached, and focus on the years each side of the coach's tenure; this way we can isolate the coach as the key variable to that team's results over a given period. If a team's performance improves during a coach's reign, and weakens in the years preceding and following, you can be fairly safe in saying the coach had a positive influence on that team. One example alone, though, does not fulfil our definition of a champion coach. The champion coach will have a record of improving the results of the teams they coach over a sustained period.

I have done some analysis on on the records of both Graham Henry and Robbie Deans to try to settle the debate once and for all. The analysis is based on their ability to have a positive influence on a number of different teams over a number of different years. This information is easy to come by and highlights some startling differences in quality.

Graham Henry:

1992-1997 – Auckland: Admittedly a great team, but Henry inherited a team that had lost the previous NPC, and under him they won four years in a row. After Henry left they did not win again until 1999.

1996-1998 – Blues: Henry coached the Blues in their first three years. He won the tournament in 1996 and 1997, and came second in 1998. The following year the Blues finished ninth and never finished higher than sixth in the following four years.

1998-2002 – Wales: After almost two decades of poor results, Henry led Wales to a record 10 consecutive victories and their first win against the World Champion Springboks. He was nicknamed "The Great Redeemer". Such was his record, he was appointed the first coach of the British and Irish Lions not from one of the Home Nations.

2003 – Blues: Henry came back to the Blues as technical adviser. In the four years since Henry last coached the Blues they hadn’t finished higher than sixth. Henry returned and led the Blues to the title again. Henry left after 2003 and The Blues have never won the title since.

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2004-2011 – All Blacks: In the professional era from 1996 till 2003 (pre-Henry), the All Blacks had a winning ratio of 76 per cent. In the following eight years under Henry the winning ratio was 85 per cent. This stat alone would be enough, but add in five Tri Nations, three Grand Slams and a World Cup to that and you have one of the most successful All Blacks coaches of all time by any measure.

Verdict - Champion Coach: Henry has displayed a continuous record of improving the results of the teams he coaches. Every team Henry has coached has seen an improvement in their results.

Robbie Deans:

1997-2000 – Canterbury: Deans got off to a great start in his coaching career, leading Canterbury to the title in 1997. This was Deans' only title with Canterbury

2000-2008 – Crusaders: Deans inherited a Crusaders side from Wayne Smith who coached the Crusaders to back-to-back titles in 1998 and 99. Deans then led the Crusaders to five more titles during his nine years in charge. Deans is regularly credited with creating the famous Crusaders culture and legacy. The facts tell a different story. Clearly it was created with Wayne Smith, with Deans continuing the good work. Even in the four years following Deans' departure, the Crusaders never finished lower than fourth.

2001-2003 – All Blacks: As Assistant Coach of the All Blacks, Deans had a very good record. He won the Tri Nations in 2002 and 2003 and the Bledisloe in 2003. Deans' tenure ended when the All Blacks lost the World Cup in 03.

2008-Present – Australia: Deans' record with Australia is poor, having been dominated by the All Blacks during his tenure. He has never won the Bledisloe and lost the World Cup.

Verdict - Pretender: Deans has shown little evidence of improving the results of the teams he coaches. He has coached a number of excellent teams though

I also completed a similar analysis to this on some other New Zealand coaches. Wayne Smith rates similarly to Graham Henry and is regarded by many as the most astute coach in New Zealand. Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen also rate well.

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