Wayne Smith may not have been helping coach the Chiefs to a Super Rugby final this season but for Sir Graham Henry's persistence nearly nine years ago.
Henry has revealed in his biography, Graham Henry - Final Word, which was published today, that it took a great deal of persistence and determination to convince Smith back at the end of 2003 and start of 2004 that he should return to New Zealand.
Smith had been head coach of the All Blacks in 2000 and 2001 but was then controversially dumped after much was made of a radio interview where he hesitated when asked if he was the right person to coach the All Blacks at the next Rugby World Cup.
He was immediately snapped up by the Northampton club in England and after turning the Saints around in terms of their on-field performance over the next couple of seasons, he initially did not want a bar of Henry's approach for Smith to join him in a bid to take over from John Mitchell as All Blacks coaches.
But Henry and the other man he had recruited to be an assistant, current All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, were determined to get their man.
“You never give up on those things,” said Henry when interviewed about the new book written by Bob Howitt.
“He'd gone through some pain with the All Blacks and how the media had reacted to him over here.
“He and his family were pretty reluctant to go through that again, so initially the answer was no but we kept on working at it - me and Steve Hansen basically.”
The book reveals Smith and his wife initially had no desire to return to New Zealand but Henry was not about to give up and hard sells from Hansen, who was winding down as Wales coach at the time, and mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka had him wavering.
“They had king makers and king breakers in the media here, and they'd certainly sewn him up, which was a pity.
“He took that very personally and his family, in particular, were very upset about it and went through some hard times, which you can understand, so he was pretty reluctant to expose himself to that sort of thing again.
“But at the end of the day we managed to change that and that was great because he's an outstanding coach.”
Asked what swung it in the end, Henry said he felt Smith had “black blood in his veins” and was an outstanding All Black person with more involvement with the All Blacks over the years than anyone else and with huge respect for the black jersey and silver fern.
“It was just a matter of time and persevering, I guess, and trying to convince him it was going to be an outstanding period in All Black rugby,” Henry said.
So Henry, Smith and Hansen took the All Blacks through to the 2007 World Cup where the notorious quarterfinal loss to France in Cardiff devastated a nation.
But Henry said that just made him, Hansen and Smith even more determined to put it right, stay in the job and win the World Cup in 2011, which they duly did.
“I think we got tighter [as a result of that]. Obviously it was a trying time, a difficult time but we had a lot of support from players and management as coaches, and that was positive.
“We thought we got sawn off in that quarterfinal and that was another reason we wanted to carry on. It wasn't just about me, it was about [Smith and Hansen] as well.”
Henry said the coaches had put a lot of pressure on players to stand up and be counted, and they would have lost the respect of the players if they had not done the same, even though they believed their chances of reappointment were slim.
“And they were looking - looking to see if Ted and Smithy and Shag would stand up.
"I had to stand up because I had to be appointed first before the other two.”
Smith came into the Henry setup as attack coach and finished it as defence coach, the role he now has with the Chiefs.
“Defence wins championships, there's no doubt about that and it was a major in the Rugby World Cup.”
Hansen said the thing the three coaches were most proud of was that they improved the All Blacks culture and the environment to become a self-improvement one that tended to retain key players and left the team in good shape for the future.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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