Gregor Paul on rugby

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: ABs need Henry in Pumas camp

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Graham Henry and coach Santiago Phelan talk during an Argentina training session. Photo / Getty Images
Graham Henry and coach Santiago Phelan talk during an Argentina training session. Photo / Getty Images

The connection isn't immediately obvious - but the All Blacks need Graham Henry in the Pumas camp. World rugby needs Henry in the Pumas camp and hopefully he'll make a genuine impact.

The Sanzar nations have taken a risk introducing Argentina. It was a move horribly overdue - primarily to provide the Pumas with the regular competition they so deserved, but also to breathe some life into a Tri Nations where familiarity had bred contempt.

If Argentina can settle, become serious competition for New Zealand, South Africa and Australia then the intrigue and interest rises considerably. The dynamic of southern hemisphere will change - there will be new players, new rivalries, new ideas, new parts of the world to visit.

Commercially, the Rugby Championship will have more room to grow - and more money coming in, hopefully means less players flooding out.

Then there's the wider global picture: how many teams at last year's World Cup stacked as potential winners? New Zealand and France - although even the French didn't convince for much of the tournament losing to Tonga as well as to the All Blacks in the pool round.

South Africa and Australia, with some luck and ringing everything out, could have maybe sneaked the title but neither would have been considered a great side. Wales were handy but lacked belief and Ireland had the capacity to play one big game.

World rugby needs more contenders - the proper kind: teams with big bruising forwards that can do all the nasty things they are supposed to and then give the ball to backs who know how to do all the frilly things they are supposed to.

Argentina could become that team, and they could become that team that little bit quicker by having Henry help them. It would be different if Henry was working with one of the established heavyweights - an historic rival such as England, France or South Africa. But he's not. He's trying to fast-track a side that has been shamefully treated and neglected by world rugby administrators for far too long.

And, in a way, his presence with the Pumas will benefit the All Blacks. Far from worrying about what secrets Henry might be passing onto the Pumas, the All Blacks will be intensely focused on ensuring their game this weekend contains a few surprises. The pressure is on them to evolve, adapt and take their performance to new levels and render much of Henry's intelligence on their game-plan obsolete.

It would be a travesty if 12 months on, Henry still knew all the All Blacks' secrets. It would be just as big a travesty if Steve Hansen feared the presence of Henry within the Pumas camp.

Hansen in his time so far has surpassed expectation. He hasn't been content to maintain what he inherited; he has in fact most definitely enhanced and added, tweaked and modified and shown himself to be smart, aware and capable. He will relish the challenge of pitting his side against one that Henry has had considerable influence over.

- Herald on Sunday

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