Welsh rugby writer on Mitchell, Deans and Henry

Published: Wed 3 Dec 2003 08:54 AM
Media Release – December 3
Welsh rugby writer on Mitchell, Deans and Henry
Leading Welsh rugby writer Andy Howell believes New Zealand should give John Mitchell and Robbie Deans at least another two years in charge of the All Blacks.
The All Blacks did not falter because of Mitchell – but because of the All Blacks’ lack of forward power, said Howell, the rugby correspondent of The Western Mail, Wales' national newspaper.
He said New Zealand had a comparatively young side which could `even go on to rule world rugby’.
Howell dealt with likely All Blacks coach candidate Graham Henry on a regular basis throughout his Welsh coaching tenure.
He said, "Henry was billed as the Great Redeemer by the Welsh Rugby Union and lived up to the tag until the 1999 World Cup.
"Wales' record-equalling run of 10 consecutive wins, which included a first triumph over South Africa, England, France (twice) and recording a double over Argentina in Buenos Aires, ended when they suffered a shock defeat to Samoa during union's premier tournament.
"In reality, the team was already on the slide, having peaked against the Springboks four months earlier.
"Wales lost two key players during the 2000 Six Nations Championship when Kiwis Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson became victims of the eligibility scandal and were inconsistent.
"After he coached the British Lions in Australia in 2001 his relationship with the 10-strong Welsh contingent that went was never the same again.
"Some of them thought they should have been in the Lions Test team when, in reality, only Colin Charvis had grounds for complaint.
"The knock-on effect - and this is typically Welsh - the players stopped believing in and started blaming the coach for their diabolical performances during back-to-back record defeats against Ireland.
"Henry's work ethic was vastly superior to most of his charges despite his being mentally drained by the Lions tour. He also knew there were hardly any players outside the Welsh squad of international quality he could bring in.
"So he left. I have no doubt he was let down by some of the players. The view in Wales today is, if you tick a check-list of 20 requirements a coach needs, Henry would be near the top,
"I am sure he would do a good job with the All Blacks because he knows his stuff, has a knack of identifying talent, is tactically astute and employs assistants who can put his tactical plans into operation.
"Weaknesses with Wales were his apparent aloofness from players and lack of contact with people from outside his inner circle. And he seemed run out of tactical ideas during the decisive third Test between the Lions and Australia.
"Interestingly, he wasn't the centre of attention he was in Wales with the Lions because of the English domination - something I don't think a man who craves the lime-light liked.
"I always found Henry great to work with: a deep rugby-thinker and readily accessible despite the many run-ins I had with him. He was always ready to be quoted, even on a delicate subject like the eligibility scandal, and often out-spoken and controversial.
"Of course, he was a manipulator who knew how to work the media in Wales. He liked to be in control and wanted to do things on his terms. Nevertheless, he was likeable and proved great value.
"Would I appoint him All Blacks coach? I certainly would not write him off because of his age (57) but I wonder if New Zealand needs a different coach. I would give John Mitchell and Robbie Deans another two years.
"I don't think the All Blacks failed because of Mitchell - your lack of forward power was evident as far back as the Tri-Nations and the Test with England.
"New Zealand has a comparatively young side which will learn from its World Cup experience. They could even go on to rule world rugby. Knowing Henry's knack of landing the right job at the right time, he could be the beneficiary.
"When the Lions left Australia in 2001 he said he would love to be a coach during the series against New Zealand in 2005. How ironic it would be if he is coaching the All Blacks against the Lions!"

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