Sunday 25 September 2016

Henry proves failure isn't the end

Ger Gilroy

Published 03/08/2016 | 02:30

'Henry transformed the bingedrinking self-aggrandising All Blacks into a team of humble world beaters.' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
'Henry transformed the bingedrinking self-aggrandising All Blacks into a team of humble world beaters.' Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

When New Zealand choked in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, maintaining a tradition established over the previous two decades, their Union decided to break their other great World Cup tradition of sacking coaches after their failure. Graham Henry ignored the howling masses who wanted his head and went on to win the 2011 World Cup, establishing a culture that would be his biggest legacy.

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In 2007 the team had portrayed an outward bullet-proof self-confidence during the tournament, they wouldn't adapt their style for anyone, they were the All Blacks, the big beast that other teams adapted to. After they choked they had to change.

Instead of ignoring their tradition of choking they chose to talk about choking, to analyse why and how and when they choked and to scientifically dismantle the DNA of their choke. It worked, even as their best player Dan Carter went out injured, even as Richie McCaw couldn't train between games with an injured foot, even as France hammered away at them in the last 20 minutes of the 2011 final. Sure they benefited from some generous refereeing in that final, but they put themselves in a position to benefit from it by not choking.

Henry transformed the binge-drinking self-aggrandising All Blacks into a team of humble world beaters. He did it by changing himself first. This is the lesson that his career offers anyone willing to listen. The self-help books written by others about how you too can be an All Black are only made possible by Henry's transformation.

By empowering his players and giving them responsibility for game-plans, policing training and maintaining standards, Henry had to remove his ego from the equation and admit his previous mistakes.

Tana Umaga told him his team talks weren't working so he stopped giving them. Failure caused him to honestly assess his own short comings and offered him a chance to be reborn as one of the great thought leaders of world sport.

In Ireland we throw everyone on the scrap heap if they fail once. Are we really saying that Declan Kidney and Eddie O'Sullivan have no role in Irish rugby? Hasn't Joe Schmidt already demonstrated he's learned from the World Cup. Time we embraced failure in Irish sport a bit more.

Irish Independent

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