Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Where now for Graham Henry after All Blacks win?

If Graham Henry bows out, his sidekick Steve Hansen will be a cinch to head up the next regime.
Photo / Ron Burgin
If Graham Henry bows out, his sidekick Steve Hansen will be a cinch to head up the next regime. Photo / Ron Burgin

Finals football is cruel and serene - one side departs the Rugby World Cup arena in anguish and the other soaks up the victory laps.

That 8-7 scoreboard at Eden Park will twinkle and mystify. The All Blacks will give thanks, the French will wonder how they were denied and the world will lift a quizzical eye at such an unusual scoreline.

All Black coach Graham Henry stepped into that world as he calmly mentioned that the tournament was all about winning the Webb Ellis Cup. His side had achieved that narrowly but their name is engraved on the trophy.

Henry was not being uncharitable, nor was there any sense of gloating. He and his troops had felt the cold fear of failure and were grateful they had avoided a meltdown to match 2007.

The coach was not so forthcoming about his plans, it was not the time. There were no revelations about his future, no confirmation he would coach a Barbarians side against the Wallabies next month as his international swansong.

"I think that could happen," he said. "That would be nice to do that. The Barbarians is a famous old club and it would be great to be associated with it."

If Henry bows out, his sidekick Steve Hansen will be a cinch to head up the next regime. There will be counter-arguments and questions about the strength of Hansen's cohorts but that group will have the inside running.

But Sunday night and yesterday was all about acclaiming the All Blacks' second World Cup title, celebrating the triumph and then recovering.

"We have been through a lot together," said Henry. "A lot played in the last tournament and fell at the quarter-final and to win this, there are not words for it, quite frankly."

Success had been built on the twin pillars of self-reliance and being in charge of their strategies for achieving their targets, the coach said.

Henry said they had continued to develop those plans since the 20-18 defeat to France in Cardiff. "I am delighted that culture has been developed over the last few years.

"We did not concede penalties, our defence was strong and we gutsed it out and that shows mental strength and a lot of strong independence," he said.

Captain Richie McCaw was able to lift the tournament trophy at his third attempt. A crucial moment, he said, was not to panic after his opposite Thierry Dusautoir scored with more than 30 minutes to run in the final.

McCaw had imagined how he would react and as a leader he had to deliver belief, trust and direction to his troops. They had responded well under extreme pressure.

"The last thing we wanted to do when the momentum had gone against us was panic, and we managed to hang in there," he said.

McCaw said the awkward memories of 2007 helped during Sunday's final. The senior players wanted to test themselves again in that sort of heat and their planning about how they would react had helped at Eden Park.

"You expect to be in those situations and I thought all the men, especially those around for a while, stuck to their guns and we got there."

Henry was stuck in the coaches' box questioning whether his world was going to turn to muck once more. At halftime he urged the All Blacks to get field position and their game together but while that unity did not quite occur, they did enough to win.

"It is marvellous to be world champions after being the leading team in the world for such a long time," he said.

He felt blessed to be reappointed with Hansen and Wayne Smith in 2007 and was adamant coaches benefited from extended periods in office.

"I think there is far too much time in sport where people are replaced because they do not get the right result and quite often they are very good at what they do - I'm not saying I am - but quite often they are and they just need another chance and then you get good results.

"I think what they did in 2007 was a difficult thing for the New Zealand Rugby Union to do," Henry said, "but maybe it was the right thing to do."

- NZ Herald

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