Franchises keep cool on Henry's Blues return

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 11/08/2012

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OPINION: The reality of Graham Henry's return to the Blues is it will probably have minimal impact on the other four New Zealand franchises' off-field preparations.

Although wary Blues' opponents will greet Henry's third marriage with his old franchise with lukewarm enthusiasm, they are unlikely to have kicked their coffee pots in fury at no longer having access to one of this country's most prized rugby intellectuals.

When Henry re-signed a contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union following the World Cup it allowed him to assist the five Super franchises. Yet the former All Blacks' head coach was hardly a ubiquitous sight at their trainings this season.

The Crusaders utilised him on a couple of occasions, but when the coaches were later quizzed on what impact, if any, Henry had on their sessions the response was politely muted.

Reading between the lines it seemed that while they appreciated Henry's presence they were quite content to keep their paws wrapped firmly around their own steering wheel and, ultimately, their own destiny.

Henry offered a few ideas, everyone seemed to agree they were heading down that track, and then he left.

If there is one thing coaches dislike, and this could apply to any sport, it is the thought of having someone else - especially if it is a person they do not know well - poking their head into their war room and picking holes in their operation.

Later in the season Henry was sighted floating around Eden Park as the Blues got the wobbles so badly that their wheels flew off in every direction. By that stage there was probably very little he could do to assist Pat Lam in salvaging his job and when the season ended he was chopped.

In his place has come former All Blacks wing Sir John Kirwan, who will be joined by Sir Graham Henry and probably All Blacks' skills coach Mick Byrne.

Henry's new role is ostensibly as a technical adviser but Kirwan, whose results with Japan and Italy were understandably modest considering the calibre of players he had to work with, will be able to regularly shake ideas out of Henry's 66-year-old brain.

There will be nothing half-baked about this; no seeing Henry on occasion before he drifts off to another team. He's all Kirwan's.

Just how quickly Henry, a meticulous planner and master tactician, can assist in switching the Blues from wombles to title contenders will be of high interest.

It took Wayne Smith, in conjunction with rookie head coach Dave Rennie, just one season to win the Chiefs their inaugural title.

Henry's record with the Blues is impeccable; he won titles in 1996 and 1997 before the Smith-coached Crusaders blunted that run in the 1998 final at Eden Park.

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Having battled depression following his failure with the British and Irish Lions in 2001 and then losing the Welsh dressing room, Henry returned to New Zealand to recuperate in early 2002.

The next year he returned to the Blues as a defensive coach under Peter Sloane and they beat the Crusaders in the final. The following year Henry was appointed All Blacks' head coach. The Blues have never won a title since.

- The Press

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