Graham Henry is one of Rugby Unions most influential and successful coaches. He is unique in having coached Wales, the British Lions and the All Blacks for whom he is presently at the helm.
After attending Christchurch Boys High School where he was tutored in part by John Graham, Henry studied at the University of Otago gained a Diploma in Physical Education in 1969, and became a secondary school geography and physical education teacher. He taught at two schools known for their rugby prowess – Auckland Grammar School and Kelston Boys’ High School. He coached both their first XVs. He began his career at Grammar in 1973 and remained there — while completing a Bachelor of Education at Massey University in 1979 until 1982, when he was appointed deputy headmaster of Kelston. Following the unexpected death of head master Jim Paton while jogging in 1987, Henry became headmaster. He held the job until resigning to become a full time coach in 1996.
His first major role was as coach of the successful Auckland provincial rugby team from 1992 to 1997. During his tenure, the team won the National Provincial Championship (NPC) championship four years in a row (1993–1996). Henry also coached the Blues in the Super 12 – winning the title in 1996 and 1997, and losing the final in 1998. Remarkably, the only other occasion the Blues have won the title was when he briefly returned as technical adviser in the 2003 season.
After being overlooked for the All Blacks coaching position in 1998, Henry left New Zealand to coach Wales, at the time becoming the highest paid rugby union coach in the world for a reputed £250,000. His success with Wales resulted in him being given the nickname “the Great Redeemer” in the media there after guiding his side to eleven consecutive victories. As a result, Henry gained almost celebrity status in Wales. He was appointed coach of the British and Irish Lions for their unsuccessful 2001 tour to Australia – this made him the first Lions’ coach from outside the Home Nations. He left Wales in 2002 after a record defeat to Ireland in the Six Nations by 54–10, and returned to New Zealand where he was appointed defensive coach of the Blues during their successful 2003 Super 12 season.
Following the All Blacks’ semi-final loss to Australia in the 2003 Rugby World Cup the All Blacks coaching job was advertised. Apart from incumbent coach John Mitchell, Henry was the only applicant. Henry appointed his former Wales assistant Steve Hansen as forwards coach, Wayne Smith as attack coach, and having himself responsible for defense. Henry also recruited Sir Brian Lochore as a selector. The coaching team was often referred to by rugby commentators as a dream team due to their collective experience and success.
His first Test match as coach was against the 2003 World Cup winners England team in New Zealand in 2004. England, coached by Sir Clive Woodward were decisively defeated in both Tests. The success did not carry on into the 2004 Tri-Nations where the All Blacks won two, and lost two Tests – they eventually finished last in the tournament. Henry and his assistants were criticized in the New Zealand media for their insistence on using a flat backline approach in attack – which they blamed for a low number of tries. The 2004 end of year Tests where they played Northern Hemisphere opponents was more successful and culminated in a 45–6 defeat of France in Paris.
In 2005 he coached the All Blacks in their 3–0 series defeat of the British and Irish Lions. He then coached the All Blacks to 2005 Tri-Nations victory where they lost their only match of 2005 – against South Africa. He then coached them to only their second ever Grand Slam over the four Home Nations later that year. The All Blacks were named 2005 Team of the Year by the sport’s governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB). The IRB named Henry as Coach of the Year and first five-eighth Daniel Carter as Player of the Year.
After winning the 2006 Tri-Nations and winning all end-of-year Tests in the tour of England, France, and Wales, Henry won the IRB Coach of the Year again in 2006. The All Blacks were also named Team of the Year and captain Richie McCaw Player of the Year.
Despite such successes, Henry attracted controversy for his rotation policy. This policy means that players in the squad are rotated into and out of the starting team resulting in consecutive matches in the All Blacks 2005 Grand Slam fielding entirely different starting fifteens. An extreme competitiveness developed for all positions.
Henry’s All Black coaching career was in question after New Zealand lost to France 20–18 in their 2007 World Cup quarter-final. This was New Zealand’s worst-ever performance in a Rugby World Cup; they had made the last four of every previous tournament. In particular, Henry was blamed for instructing his men to press for a try in the final ten minutes of the game instead of attempting a drop goal, with the All Blacks losing by only two points; the All Blacks’ best option for a drop goal, centre Aaron Mauger, never got onto the pitch. Others criticised Henry for omitting experienced winger Doug Howlett, the All Blacks’ leading scorer of tries in this tournament, starting lock Keith Robinson (who was both injured and had had minimum game time throughout the World Cup) as well as the injured flyhalf Daniel Carter (after earlier proclaiming that his team had enough depth not to force any injured players onto the field), and playing Mils Muliaina, widely considered one of the best fullbacks in rugby, out of position at outside centre.
Henry never stated that referee Wayne Barnes was culpable for the defeat, as Barnes not only allowed several French ruck infringements to go unpunished, but also sin-binned Luke McAlister and missed a forward pass in the build up to the decisive French try scored by Yannick Jauzion. This later lead to him receiving a fair sportmans award, the second New Zealander after Tana Umaga. Later, however, he admitted that blaming the referee had not helped his cause. After some speculation that he would leave, Henry applied for the post after it became vacant, competing with Robbie Deans.
On 7 December 2007, Henry’s contract as All Blacks coach was extended for a further two years, beating Crusaders’s coach Robbie Deans, who subsequently accepted the head coaching position of the Australian rugby union team, the Wallabies. The reappointment produced a mixed reception with the public, media and past players; some applauded the decision while others considered it a mistake. The move to reappoint Henry was also significant as it was the first time that an All Black coach was reappointed after defeat in the World Cup. This has been very divisive in New Zealand with many commentators declaring that it was a case of politics at work.
In July 2009, Henry was reappointed as the coach of the All Blacks through till the end of 2011. This contract will see him coaching the All Blacks through the 2011 Rugby World Cup which is to be held in New Zealand. Winning the World Cup would be the icing on the cake for this Great Coach.