Henry Should Stay
by Paul Waite
16 Oct 2007
Should the NZRU sack Graham Henry and his other selectors because the All Blacks lost a single test by two points, and where the referee played a huge part in the result? The answer has to be a resounding no.
There is a pattern emerging. It’s only taken 20 years, so we can forgive ourselves for not spotting it sooner. The first part to this pattern, is that we keep sacking the coach more or less directly after he gets back home. The second part of it is we persist in thinking that the Rugby World Cup, and in particular World Cup Year, are special.
Let’s take the coach-sacking bit first. If we look at life in general, it’s taken as a given that experience teaches better than anything else. We learn more from our failures than we ever can from books or teachers, and the lessons go deeper. By sacking the coach what we’re doing is preventing those hard-won lessons from being applied in the next campaign. Stupid. Instead we get a fresh lot of faces in, and they embark on their own particular learning experience, doing things in their own way. Why not, for bloody once, keep the coaches, and let them apply the lessons they’ve learned for the next World Cup effort?
Now let’s look at the issue of the World Cup and its place in things. For the past 20 years, I’ve felt that the whole event is blown up into much more than it should be. Put up on a pedestal, probably due to the actual concept of a World trophy more than anything remotely real, as can be seen by the extremely ordinary standard of rugby which has been played in this particular tournament. In the end what does it represent? Some kind of “we’re the best of the best” badge. Not really. If South Africa win it, they will have done so without playing New Zealand, or Australia or many other teams who might give them a good run for their money, so it certainly can’t pretend to determine who is best. No, it’s simply a festival, and should be enjoyed as such.
I believe other countries’ fans, and the teams themselves have bought into this too, and that’s why we see so much dour, crap rugby being played – the pressures more or less ensure that this happens.
All of this is just by way of telling you what I believe New Zealand Rugby simply must do, to be successful once again at a Rugby World Cup.
Look at the progression of World Cup campaigns mounted by New Zealand over the past 20 years. Each one has been successively more planned, had more resources spent on it, and had more detailed preparations made. This last one was The Mother Of All Rugby World Cup Campaigns. We went to town in a stretch limo. All Blacks were reconditioned, kept from real rugby and pumped up in the gyms, monitored closely by nutritionists, doctors, special performance advisors, psychological consultants, and more. Every “i” was dotted, and every “t” crossed – twice!
And we failed.
There is no pulling back from the initial Haka reaction here. Referee Barnes was a newbie who fucked up big time in a test he wasn’t ready for, and in so doing altered the course of the game against the All Blacks.
But the bottom line is, a truly well-prepared All Black team would still have won that tight game.
We ended up going home early because we over-prepared. I believe we need less of the kind of over-detailed “preparation” we’ve had, not more of it. Instead of abandoning a successful formula and doing special things in World Cup year, let’s just do the basics.
Which brings me back to the way we seem to consider the World Cup a kind of Holy Grail in this country. Why are the All Blacks so successful between World Cups? The team which lost in Cardiff hadn’t suddenly become a crap team, and god knows, the rest didn’t become any better than normal either – quite the reverse if anything. No, it was the very same All Blacks who did us proud for four years.
The difference was that they didn’t prepare for the event like All Blacks normally prepare for tours, or campaigns – with a shitload of hard work and just good, honest, pragmatic attention to detail. Nothing special, just the usual.
That’s how New Zealand should approach its World Cups – just business as bloody usual!
If we can just cotton onto this one simple tenet, everything would follow from there. De-emphasise the World Cup from it’s current loony proportions. Take each year in it’s own right, and prepare as we normally do for the international season. The way we approach World Cup year should be no different. Let the players hammer away as usual, and assemble the best squad to “tour” the World Cup.
No pampering, no reconditioning, no rotation, no losing.
So, the recipe to go forward is a simple one as far as I’m concerned. Keep the best coaching team we’ve ever had – beg them to stay in fact, and let them go over what happened and come to the right conclusions. We’ve seen them at work these past few years, and know that they collectively have a massive amount of rugby knowledge. To lose that would be a criminal waste.
To the coaches themselves – Graham, Wayne, Steve and BJ – please consider giving this thing another shot. There is a heap of unfinished business you’d have to admit.
The other part of it is the challenge of moving us through a period where quite a number of top All Blacks are going overseas. You guys can do that better than anyone, so please do.
All the best from Haka.
Addendum 28th October: Have a read of this superb article by Grant Fox on the RugbyHeaven website. I’ve got a lot of time for Foxy – he’s always right on the money.