Graham Henry happy to point Leo Cullen and Leinster in right direction
Former All Black coach assesses what the coaches are doing in their development
Graham Henry watches on during a Leinster training session at Greystones RFC, Dr Hickey Park. “If you can pass on some of that experience about what helped you get better – it must be a positive, hopefully.” Photograph: Sportsfile
Odd yet a welcome sight: Graham Henry unsmiling mug in amongst Leinster preseason training. Quietly conferring with Leo Cullen and his former pupil Isa Nacewa, as Ireland internationals hunch together on the sideline before their strenuous autograph session at Greystones RFC.
The blue hooded Robbie Henshaw not togged out due to recent knee surgery. Cian Healy and a sheared Seanie O’Brien cast long shadows either end of Dr Hickey Park, Greystones, both embroiled in interminable personal rehab.
Mike McCarthy in the thick of it again after that nasty head collision with Jack McGrath’s sturdy hip laid him out in Paris last February. No sign of James Ryan, although former Munster lock Ian Nagle looks a sizeable addition, but one of the Ireland Under-20 captain’s World Cup team-mates is barrelling about. Andrew Porter carries a superior physical presence to the young props moulded around these parts. Another loosehead off the line.
“I have come here to try and assess what the coaches are doing in their coaching development,” the 70-year-old tells the media. “Leo is young and some of his assistants are young in so far as coaching experience is concerned.”
“Christ,” he whispers conspiratorially, “I coached for f**kin’ ages before I became a coach at this level. And I know this is something that is happening more and more so it is not something completely new but I found the longer you coach the better you got. So if you can pass on some of that experience about what helped you get better – it must be a positive, hopefully.”
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“Yeah, I do . . .I rate him exceptionally highly. I think he is one of the best coaches in the world and I think the players enjoy playing for him. Well, I know the players enjoy playing for him. So, he has the base, hasn’t he, to do it. He has got to make those personal decisions about what he is going to do going forward.
“There is a law in New Zealand that to be an All Black coach you have to be coaching in New Zealand to go the next step. Like, Steve (Hansen) is going to coach until the next World Cup. In recent times they have appointed coaches from within to get that continuity so Joe might need to be a wee bit patient. But he is quality. And I think the older you are the better you will be. So there is no rush.”
“I do a lot of consulting stuff both in corporate and sport so I am doing some work with our local rugby league team in Auckland. I work with three corporates on a pretty regular basis. I enjoy it but I enjoy rugby. It still gives me a buzz. I still coach kid’s teams, schoolboy teams and club teams in Auckland I always love getting out and doing the job.”
Could you do that up here? “It’s just a long taxi drive.”
To brass tax then. Having studied the form of Cullen’s Leinster last season, where does Henry feel the most pressing areas of on-field improvement need to occur for “Operation Fourth Star” to be successful?
“Just the ability to run straight lines and punch pass across the body. And fix defenders. A lot of teams narrow the space by running on the pass, running with the ball and the pass. That, for example, will make a huge difference, if you can improve that skill for everyone on the team to be able to do that.”
Next: “They are creating opportunity and probably not seeing the opportunity they are creating so just to be able to see that opportunity and communicate to take advantage of it. The third big one is the ability to be able to communicate from the inside out. Johnny Sexton is probably going to be the play maker in the big games. Just the ability of 14 and 11 and maybe 13 to pass on information whether it should be hands or maybe a kick pass to the winger wide, whatever it may be, so he is getting information.
“I am sure some of that is happening.”
Essentially, and Henry confirmed as much, the difference between New Zealand and Ireland comes down to the fundamental skills honed since childhood.
Massive leaps are apparent within the Leinster schools system these past 10 years but, much like the art of coaching, it takes time to get where you are going. Something Leinster do not have much of. Ted leaves Sunday week. Must be a few holes in that busy schedule.