Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: For Graham Henry it was worth rugged climb

Graham Henry. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Graham Henry. Photo / Brett Phibbs

None of us was immune to Graham Henry's gaze.

"Ted" was a busy man, used to running things his own way as headmaster at Kelston Boys High School when he took on the extra job of coaching the Auckland rugby side.

He would spend most evenings immersed in educational or rugby business, preparing for combat in the classroom or the rugby field. When his body shut down, his mind would usually rouse him to start work well before most of Auckland rose.

Time was a precious commodity to Henry, who stepped aside this week after 140 tests coaching the All Blacks, Wales and Lions.

He came through the school and club coaching system and, after some edgy political upheaval in Auckland rugby circles, took over the Auckland side in 1992.

Henry butted heads with plenty of people from All Black coach Laurie Mains down to those of us armed with just notepad and pen.

Henry was determined in those days to coach up front, to instil his ideas. It was a version of My Way or the Highway. Some who were near their use-by date went down State Highway 1.

The headmaster held trainings after his busy days co-ordinating a school of 1250 kids and 100 staff. That done, he was looking forward to a precious hour or so with his family at home rather than being doorstopped by the media at training.

A couple of us, no more in those days, would lean on the white railings of Eden Park No 2 training ground.

Engaging us was not high on Henry's list of priorities. There was usually an attempted "you don't want me do you" inquiry as he tried to hightail it to the changing rooms.

We managed to get some "oil" from other sources but Henry was the voice for selections or other details.

He was used to getting his own own way at work and on the field. He objected if he or his methods were portrayed in a less than favourable light - as another writer on the Herald did in a feature article.

Things were frosty even though I had not penned the story.

Auckland assistant coach John Graham, an educational mentor for Henry and experienced across a wide spectrum of life, suggested a meeting to ease the detente.

As the paper's rugby writer, I was invited to a meeting with Henry, Graham and team manager Rex Davy. No problem, nothing like a sitdown with the powerbase.

I was made aware of how Henry thought newspapers should deal with rugby while he heard how they operated in the changing media world.

Two decades on, we are having similar debates. Not as often though, as Henry has grown into fulltime coaching and adapted his methods through professionalism while the media have mushroomed into a multi-layeredbeast .

Henry had been a professional coach, paid to think and deliver solutions to a range of knotty rugby environments. He and his crew offered rest and reconditioning theories as the foundation for their 2007 World Cup bid and failed. Badly. The theory was poorly explained, timed and executed.

World Cups were the benchmark. A quarter-final exit in Cardiff was the worst result in All Black history.

By that measure alone, irrespective of the other dramas, I wanted a coaching change. It did not happen.

The coaches, NZRU officials and many players wanted a chance at redemption. Henry and his cohorts were reinstated and four years later they lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.

Well done, congratulations. Most of their demons were felled that October 23 night at Eden Park.

Henry can snooze contentedly in his deckchair by the beach or smile as he lands more snapper off Waiheke.

Coaches build or lose their reputations on those margins, he and the All Blacks were on the right side of the ledger this time. That 8-7 result was gold for the All Blacks, a treasure for New Zealand and nirvana for a bloke called Ted.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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