How the All Blacks Henry came to understand his Rugby World Cup Team
My first encounters with Graham Henry left me a little uncertain.
He was autocratic, sure of his ability, he knew what he wanted and how he was going to get there.
But he has changed, he has made big shifts in the way he leads the All Blacks, in how he works and what he delivers to the team.
Henry has a reservoir of knowledge but is always looking to build on that, he is relentless in his pursuit of the next level and he has a compassionate side the players enjoy.
Stacking up 100 tests coaching the All Blacks tomorrow is a massive achievement and along the way he has received great support from wife Raewyn, other members of his family and the wider All Blacks group.
I look at the way coaches are valued in the States, where there are a number in baseball, basketball and football, who are employed beyond Henry’s age. They are mature, they have encountered most of the obstacles sides can run into, they have dealt with a range of issues and come out the other side. They are durable, mentally tough, battle-hardened and sharp.
Henry fits that mould. He is comfortable in his own skin, he understands all the nuances of the sport and is a players’ coach.
I first met him in 1998 when I had been dropped to the New Zealand A side and he and Frank Oliver were our coaches.
We had a game in Hamilton and several in Samoa, where I remember he enjoyed fishing on his day off.
Then he quit New Zealand and did not reappear until 2003 when he was picked as All Blacks coach.
I wondered how I would get on, especially after my injury and struggles at that year’s World Cup and I was apprehensive when my wife took an early morning call from Henry.
He asked me to captain the All Blacks. I was humbled to be asked, thankful and very proud that he bestowed a great accolade on me.
That first year was tough. Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith all came back from Britain where they were used to working with the players a lot more.
Back in New Zealand they got us after the Super 14 and, naturally, wanted to go full throttle and make a strong impression. On the other hand, the players needed a break, they felt overloaded. We got that sorted and I have the utmost respect for the coaches because they listened.
They developed from there with the leadership groups they instituted. They worked with the players to make sure we gave them feedback and they kept us honest and on task.
Life in the All Blacks became much more of a two-way street as Henry and his style evolved.
Then it came to 2005 when I told Ted I was not going to carry on. I had given it a lot of thought, I had spoken to my family. It was done, I was 100 per cent sure.
My plan was to retire after the Lions series but Ted managed to change my mind. He persuaded me to get through the Tri-Nations and end-of-year tour to Europe.
He tried to talk me round, to think about getting to the 2007 World Cup. He offered me ideas about managing my workload but I felt that was making too many concessions.
I had too much respect for the All Blacks jersey, I wanted time at home and Ted accepted those reasons as well.
He has gone on for another six years, showing great skill and endurance.
Being All Blacks coach is probably the second hardest job in the country behind Prime Minister. He has to put up with incessant inspection and know how and when to switch off.
I’m in contact with him from time to time because I want to learn as much as I can and he has been a huge influence on how I coach teams. The All Blacks have been lucky to have him.