Leinster hire Graham Henry as coaching consultant

Leo Cullen behind the idea to enhance his own and his coaching team’s development

Graham Henry: the New Zealander brings a wealth of experience to his coaching activities. Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Graham Henry: the New Zealander brings a wealth of experience to his coaching activities. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

Leinster have hired Graham Henry as a coaching consultant. The Irish Times can confirm that the 2011 World Cup -winning New Zealand coach will come to Dublin in August for a fortnight to work alongside Leo Cullen.

Following Leinster’s second trophy-less season in succession, Henry will offer advice about tactical improvements but the sojourn shall primarily focus on continuing the coaching education of Cullen and his young team, which includes Girvan Dempsey (40), John Fogarty (38) and Kurt McQuilkin.

Currently, there is no plan for Henry to take up an assistant coaching role as he did after a similar arrangement with Argentina in 2012.

Cullen is behind the recruitment of Henry. Still only 38, having replaced Jono Gibbes as forwards coach immediately after retiring in May 2014, the three time European Cup winning captain approached Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson and the board with the proposal last April.

The main intention is to ensure his backroom team continue their development as coaches without sacrificing their entire off-season (Dempsey is currently on a coaching expedition to New Zealand, watching how a number of clubs and Super Rugby franchises work).

The provincial board agreed and duly approached Henry, who has already initiated the process by reviewing Leinster’s recent campaign when Cullen was forced to use an unprecedented 56 players.

Direct involvement

Leinster will offset the cost of bringing the 70-year-old to Dublin with Henry speaking at corporate events.

This proactive step is in stark contrast to the situation that developed in Munster last season. Anthony Foley was appointed head coach following a breakdown in contract negotiations with Rob Penney, after Munster refused to keep Penney’s assistant Simon Mannix. But within two seasons the fully indigenous backroom ticket was dissolved and accepted as a failed venture.

Only Foley and scrum coach Jerry Flannery were retained following the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby. Erasmus will oversee team selection and all on-field coaching, primarily attack, while fellow South African Jacques Nienaber was hand-picked to tighten the Munster defence.

Foley remains the head coach in name but his responsibilities have been curtailed to coaching lineout and breakdown.

This move by Cullen, to learn on the job from an established master, can be seen as a clever attempt to avoid a similar fate.

Leinster have no plans to permanently add to their coaching structures although they are seeking a head of fitness after David Humphreys lured Dan Tobin to Gloucester.

Nor do they envisage appointing a director of rugby-type figure as Guy Easterby, head of operations, covers off field matters like player contracts.

Leinster are also still active in the foreign player market to improve their competitiveness in the Champions Cup. However, the provinces have been met with resistance from IRFU performance director David Nucifora in this regard.

To turn a decent profit Leinster must fill the Aviva Stadium three times a year. They seem guaranteed to entice 30,000-plus for the home Munster fixture and Champions Cup tie in December so every season they need a home quarter-final – half of this gate goes to the IRFU – to make essential financial gains.

Henry will directly coach Leinster players during preseason and while there is scope for him to return in a wider capacity, such a decision rests solely with Cullen.

He has worked on a consultancy basis since Steve Hansen replaced him as All Blacks coach after the 2011 World Cup, even recently crossing codes to assist Auckland’s NRL franchise the Warriors by mentoring under pressure coach Andrew McFadden.

Henry has had a peerless career in rugby union. Initially a teacher then principal with Auckland Grammar (1973-81) and Kelston Boys’ High School (1982-91), he was one of the games first professional coaches with Auckland (1992-97), which included delivering two Super Rugby titles for the Auckland Blues in 1996 and 1997.

Unsuccessful tour

On return home to New Zealand he succeeded John Mitchell as All Black coach and, despite securing a Lions series whitewash (2005), possibly the greatest group of players ever assembled came up short against France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

However, the NZRU broke their usually ruthless protocols by rehiring Henry for another four years, a decision he repaid by delivering the William Webb Ellis trophy, despite losing three outhalves, including Dan Carter, en route to the nervy 8-7 final victory over France at Eden Park.

Having coached New Zealand to 88 wins in 103 Tests for a 85.4 percent win ratio, Henry was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The NZRU contracted him for two more years to mentor the next generation of provincial and Super Rugby coaches.

This overlapped with helping Los Pumas develop their attacking style.

Now Leinster hope to mine the unrivalled rugby brain of the Kiwi, known simply as “Ted”, who possesses razor sharp wit.

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